Midwife, OB/GYN, Or Doula? Choosing Your Birth Partner

If you're currently pregnant (or even just trying to conceive), you're probably already being asked to make a whirlwind of decisions about baby names, room color schemes, and important choices such as whether to breastfeed or formula feed. However, one of the most important decisions about your pregnancy involves the person at the other end of the delivery table. Although you may already be under the care of an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN), there exist additional trained personnel who can assist you with the birthing process. Read on to learn more about midwives and doulas, as well as the role each of these individuals can play leading up to (and during) your birth day.

What is a midwife?

Although midwives have been more frequently used by expectant mothers during the last several decades, it is not a new concept -- in fact, midwives historically pre-date even OB/GYNs. A midwife does not necessarily have a medical degree, but acts in a supporting role to the OB/GYN and can even perform many of the tests and procedures your OB/GYN will recommend, such as fetal monitoring, blood sugar testing, and cervical checks.

In some low-risk situations, you may be able to choose a midwife from a site like http://www.whallc.com to assist at your birth instead of an OB/GYN. As long as surgery is not needed, your midwife will be able to do everything needed to assist you and your baby in a safe birthing experience. In fact, most home births are performed with the assistance of a midwife, and in some cases, a doula.

What is a doula?

A doula is a birth assistant who often acts in concert with a midwife. Unlike the midwife, the doula is unable to perform many birthing interventions, but will act as your representative to the midwife and other medical personnel to ensure that your wishes and birth plan are followed whenever medically possible. Your doula will also be able to help you through the labor itself, by helping you focus on breathing techniques and natural methods of pain management. After the birth, the doula will ensure that you and your baby are on a good path to breastfeeding, if that is your chosen method of infant nutrition.

Why choose a midwife or doula?

There are a number of reasons why many expectant mothers choose the assistance of a midwife or doula rather than (or in addition to) an OB/GYN. Midwives are increasingly popular, and have had roles in nearly 12 percent of all vaginal births across the U.S. in 2012.

  • Fewer medical interventions
    • Midwives have achieved a reputation in many circles as being "low-intervention" -- meaning that they prefer to allow the birth process to proceed naturally, without attempts to hurry it along (such as manually breaking your water or inducing labor). If you would like your birth experience to be as natural as possible, you may want to investigate the use of a midwife.
  • Drug-free births
    • Because a doula will be at your side during the entire labor process, helping you find breathing techniques and positions to minimize pain and speed along labor, you may find it easier to achieve a natural, drug-free birth by using a doula or midwife.
  • Home births
    • Many midwives operate out of freestanding birthing centers -- and others specialize in home births. Because few OB/GYNs will participate in a home birth, if you choose to go this route, you'll likely be using a midwife.

Can you have a midwife or doula during a high-risk pregnancy?

Although many midwives specialize in low-risk pregnancies, being high-risk certainly doesn't eliminate this option for you. However, depending upon the type of intervention you need (a c-section, additional monitoring, or an induction) you'll likely also need the services of an OB/GYN during the birth process.