Midwives and Doulas: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a midwife and a doula? Well, you’re not alone because this is question is asked on a weekly basis when families are looking for support. Read on to learn more about how midwives and doulas differ, the different types of midwives, home birth options for our area, and how midwives and OBGYNs can also work together.

A midwife* is a medical practitioner, whereas a doula is a professional birth and postpartum support person.

Midwives provide prenatal medical care during pregnancy, attend to childbirth delivery, and provides follow up medical care during postpartum period. Doulas are non-medical birth professionals normally privately hired by families to provide childbirth and newborn care education, physical comfort measures and birth coaching during labor, and extended in-home postpartum support.

(*) We are primarily referring to Certified Nurse Midwives in this blog post. See below on different types of midwives.

What are the different types of midwives?

The most common types of midwives are: certified nurse midwives (CNMs), certified professional midwives (CPMs), and lay midwives.

  • CNMs graduate from nursing school and can provide a full spectrum of women’s health care. These midwives have been trained in hospitals and may work in hospital settings, healthcare clinics, or operate state-registered homebirth midwifery and wellness clinics. Many CNMs are covered by insurance.
  • CPMs graduate from midwifery school and focus primarily on pregnancy and childbirth. These midwives have been trained for homebirth settings but are not recognized as medical providers in North Carolina**.
  • Lay midwives are usually unlicensed midwives who may not have had formalized training and are not recognized as medical providers in our healthcare system. These midwives may have an integral role in many indigenous cultures or can be found where a gap in accessible homebirth care is present.

(**) Currently in North Carolina, Certified Nurse Midwives are the only type of midwife recognized as medical providers who can operate a state-registered home-birth midwifery and wellness business. This legislative limitation is not in place in most other states. It may be important for you to ask questions to know what type of midwife you are hiring for your childbirth.

Do you still need a doula if you have a midwife?

Although midwives and doulas have very different roles, they can work together to create the dream team for birth and postpartum support.  Whether you are planning to deliver at home with a homebirth midwife or in a hospital setting with a hospital midwife or OBGYN, your doula is one who will help you stay comfortable through every contraction, find the most comfortable and effective labor positions, and provide emotional support throughout your pregnancy and during labor. The overlap in roles is the mindset and approach to helping families experience an empowered physiological birth.

How are Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) different from OBGYNs?

Though CNMs and OBGYNS both provide medical care and support, there is a difference in their scope and approach to care. Midwives mainly provide care for low-risk pregnancies, tend to be more in tune in the normal physiological birth, and supportive of less interventions. OBGYNS are required for high-risk pregnancies and more complicated care scenarios (including surgeries). In hospital settings, it can be very common to find midwives and OBGYNs working together in OB clinics and in labor and delivery. That said, not all hospitals or OBGYN clinics have midwives. Doulas are experienced in providing support while working alongside all variations of a medical care team.

How do I find a local CNM home birth midwife?

For a list of the most popular CNM home birth midwives who support the Fayetteville area and in Moore County, click here.

Central Carolina Doulas can help you discover what professional support feels like and create the dream team for your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery.  Contact us if you are seeking to add doula support to your birth support team.

Photo by: Light Filled Life Photography


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About Central Carolina Doulas

There’s a good chance that you found Central Carolina Doulas because you’re seeking an exceptional birth and parenting experience. We invite you to see how our team of doulas can help you confidently prepare to welcome and care for your new baby.