Doulas and Midwives: What Roles do they Play?

Learn the differences between nurse-midwives and doulas.

doula meeting with patient in home
doula meeting with patient in home

When it comes to having a baby, a mother-to-be will have her own vision of the kind of birthing experience she wants. And many women are choosing to include a doula, a certified nurse midwife—or both—as part of their plan for pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the crucial early months of learning to care for newborn.

But exactly what role does a doula or a midwife play in a birthing plan? Read on to learn more about how midwives and doulas contribute through the course of pregnancy and childbirth, and discover the differences between these two professions.

The Role of a Midwife From Pregnancy to Delivery

Responsibilities of a nurse-midwife

According to The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), here are the many duties that a nurse-midwife carries out during a woman’s pregnancy:

  • Perform regular exams through the course of the intrapartum period
  • Help women make decisions about their birthing plan, including whether or not to use anesthesia and what measures to take if complications arise.

After childbirth, a nurse-midwife helps a woman with the following newborn care needs:

  • Teaching her to breastfeed
  • Helping her find ways to soothe an infant through colic
  • Providing postpartum medical care to women and their newborns, if necessary
  • Recommending coping strategies to women and their partners for all the changes that come with having a newborn

The Role of a Doula From Pregnancy to Delivery

Doulas in the delivery room

Like nurse-midwives, doulas have significant experience in the delivery room. Doulas specialize in providing mothers with the emotional support and physical comforts they need through the course of pregnancy, labor and delivery.

DONA International explains the important role doulas play in helping women carry out their birthing plans and in facilitating the most positive experience of childbirth possible. Among other things, this may include:

  • Helping a woman and her partner understand what to expect during labor
  • Holding the mother’s hand and helping her breathe through contractions
  • Getting the mother more pillows when she asks

After the delivery, a postpartum doula can provide a number of services to a mother:

  • Offer companionship and nonjudgmental support as the mother goes through the postpartum period.
  • Educate mothers on breastfeeding, infant soothing, sleep schedules and other facets of newborn care.
  • Assist mothers with newborn care tasks, from diaper changes to rocking the little one to sleep.
  • Help the family adjust to the new baby, perform light housework and prepare some family meals.
  • Suggest coping skills for new parents and refer families to resources and other professionals who can provide additional support during this time.

Education and Training Standards for Nurse-Midwives and Doulas

Nurse-midwife qualifications

Nurse-midwives have advanced clinical nursing training. They typically hold a Master of Science degree in Nursing (MSN) and have passed a national certification exam. Their training and medical expertise qualify nurse-midwives to deliver babies independently in hospitals, clinics, birthing centers, and private practice. Further, a nurse-midwife can recognize when the circumstances of a woman’s pregnancy or delivery require the attention of a medical doctor.

Doula Qualifications

Doulas have received training on the birthing process and/or postpartum period and have met the requirements of a rigorous certification program. However, doulas do not perform clinical or medical tasks. Instead, doulas hone in on a mother’s emotional and physical needs, working to create a calm environment during the most trying moments of labor, helping to ensure that a woman’s birthing plan is carried out, and providing a communication link between a mother, her partner and medical staff.

Learn more about certified nurse-midwife programs and degrees, and request more information from the midwifery schools that interest you most.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics;;