Doula vs. midwife

doula-vs-midwife-1Long gone are the days when your GP looked after your health and that of your baby from your first pregnancy test through to post-natal care.

Today, there are many choices when it comes to pregnancy, birth and post-natal care. One of the big decisions expectant mothers have to make is whether they choose a midwife, a doula, or both.

If you’re wondering what a doula is, the name is derived from Greek and literally means “a woman who serves.” She doesn’t replace a registered healthcare professional but will encourage, soothe, nurture and educate you through your pregnancy, birth and early mothering days.  She adds an extra service, such as helping with techniques to manage pain during labour and providing help and support during baby’s early days. The role of a doula is to ensure the mother and her partner feel safe and confident before, during, and after birth.

Palmerston North-based Baby Beginnings owner Carolyn Tranter, who has been a doula for 26-years, says a doula can be an essential addition to a mother-to-be’s team.

“It’s definitely become more popular. I think it’s because people are aware that the emotional and physical support that family used to offer previously, that disappeared when birthing went to hospitals. It’s filling a gap that mum and auntie and grandma used to fill to make sure that she feels supported.”

Carolyn added that a doula’s role was not to replace family, but to help family learn how to support a pregnant/birthing woman and new mother as much as possible. “It’s that emotional and physical support that she needs.” She says that although a midwife does offer support, their role was primarily as a registered medical professional.

That doesn’t mean that doulas are unqualified: Carolyn trained in America to become DONA certified.

While certification is not required to work as a doula in New Zealand, Carolyn recommends it. “Those who are certified have a very clear and strict scope of practice and code of ethics. It’s always important to know the boundaries.” She started the Doula Academy to facilitate DONA certification for New Zealand doulas.

Science backs up the practice of doulas. The Cochrane Library 2011 research paper Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth says that the services of a doula – a continuous support person during birth who is not there as family/friend/medical staff – is associated with improved maternal and foetal health. There’s a lower risk of induction and interventions and less need for pain relief.

Additionally, a doula is sometimes hired to work with families beyond the postpartum stages, providing continued physical and emotional support for as long as needed.

As doulas are not registered health professionals, their services are not funded through New Zealand’s healthcare system. But the cost isn’t as prohibitive as you may imagine.  For an average of between $500 – $1000 a doula will visit you 4-5 times during pregnancy, support you through the birth and for two or three hours post birth, and then 4-5 more visits post-natal. That’s a cost of about $20 a week over a pregnancy.

Mothers find it an invaluable service, Carolyn said, and it was equally as rewarding for her. “If I could, I would do it for free. It’s absolutely amazing. I feel very privileged when I’m invited to share that experience with someone.”

Got more questions about your littlies? Visit our “baby & toddler” section.