What is a Midwife? What is a Doula?

A Midwife and a Doula walk into a room where a mother is laboring beautifully... though they are both there, they are not the same thing. Doulas and Midwives hear this all the time, "Oh, what's the difference, I thought they were the same thing?". While the Midwives Model of Care is very woman centered, Midwives are different from Doulas. Below you will find our list of some similarities and differences between Doulas and Midwives.

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  • Doulas are not medical providers
  • Doulas do not give medical advice
  • Doulas are not licensed providers
  • Doulas, most often, are certified by an organization they have chosen to certify with
  • Doulas attend births in the hospital and out of hospital
  • There are two types of Doulas- Birth Doulas and Postpartum Doulas
  • Doulas do not handle complications at births
  • Doulas support a mother in labor from the moment the mother requests their presence
  • Doulas provide birth planning support and labor support that is for physical and emotional support - only
  • You can hire a doula the moment you find out you are expecting or decide in labor you would like a doula
  • Your doula team will meet with you once or twice in your pregnancy to discuss your birth wishes/plan and talk about postpartum doula support and placenta encapsulation
  • You might find a doula through an agency, partnership, or solo practice
  • Doulas are not covered by insurance companies (rare reimbursements have happened)
  • Doulas provide the support you are seeking be that for a medicated, unmedicated, vaginal, cesarean, water birth or beyond
  • Your Doula supports you 100%- if she doesn't you can find a new one


  • Midwives are care providers and practice the Midwives Model of Care with healthy low-risk mothers
  • Virginia Midwives are licensed by the board of medicine
  • There are different types of Midwives
  • Certified Nurse Midwives attend births in the hospital and out of the hospital
  • Certified Professional Midwives attend births in birth centers not affiliated with hospitals and at home
  • Certified Professional Midwives are legally able to attend OOH births many, but not all, states in the U.S.
  • Midwives, CPMs and CNMs are trained to handle complications in childbirth and resuscitation of a newborn if necessary
  • Midwives are present for clinical support, though they will cheer you on and encourage you
  • You hire your midwife at the beginning of your pregnancy for prenatal care
  • You see your midwife every 4 weeks until 28 weeks gestation, every 2 weeks until 36 weeks gestation and every week until you deliver
  • Most hospital midwives work on a rotating schedule with other OBs or CNMs
  • Most out of hospital (OOH) midwives work alone or in a team
  • CNMs are covered by insurance companies
  • CPMs are not always fully or partially covered by insurance companies
  • Midwives provide support for medicated (in-hospital), unmedicated (in/out of hospital) vaginal births, but cannot perform a cesarean
  • Your Midwife supports you 100%- if she doesn't you can find a new one

Here is where I think some confusion comes in, the fact that CPMs attend births out of the hospital and the misconception that Doulas are only for unmediated vaginal births. Midwives are trained providers while doulas are trained support attendees. Doulas can be licensed Midwives or student Midwives and vise versa, however when a person attends a birth as a doula she is a doula and when a person attends a birth as a Midwife, she is a Midwife and in the Midwife role. This information may vary from provider to provider and doula to doula, I wanted to address the most common comparisons for Virginia families. Looking for a Midwife practice in Northern Virginia, Winchester or Harrisonburg? Contact us for a list of practicing Midwives! Real talk: can midwives and Doulas work together? Does it work to have both? Do you NEED one if you have the other?

Tell us, did you have a Midwife, Doula or both for your birth?