Doctor, Doula, Midwife -- Which Is Right for You?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on March 03, 2023
4 min read

The choice is up to you, but one, or maybe more, of these three people could play a big role in bringing your little one into the world. Before the big day comes, you’ll need to know who they are and what role they might play in your baby’s birth plan.

Some 8 out of 10 women choose an obstetrician -- OB for short -- to monitor their pregnancies and deliver their babies.

The OB is a medical doctor with years of special training and schooling in this field. Some family doctors provide prenatal care and deliver babies, too.

An OB will oversee the medical aspects of your pregnancy from beginning to end. Among many other things, they’ll:

  • See you on a regular basis to keep track of things like your blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate and growth
  • Help you manage common complaints like morning sickness
  • Prescribe meds if you need them and keep an eye on the ones you already take
  • Conduct routine lab tests and ultrasounds to make sure you’re healthy and that your baby is growing properly. Some tests screen for birth defects and genetic disorders
  • Deliver your baby in the hospital

The OB will manage your care with a support team that might include nurses, other doctors, and sometimes midwives. You may see different ones at different appointments. This allows you to get acquainted with the whole team and whoever might be on call on delivery day.

Start with the list of doctors covered on your insurance plan. Ask your friends and family doctor about good OB practices near you.

In many cultures, midwives are the primary caregivers all through pregnancy and birth. These skilled professionals attend about 10% of births in the U.S.

Along with their expertise, midwives bring a nurturing, emotionally-oriented approach. They practice in private homes as well as hospitals, clinics, and birth centers. Many OB practices also have midwives on staff.

Like the OB, a midwife is there for you throughout your pregnancy. They’ll:

  • Work with you and your family to manage your physical, social, and mental care throughout your pregnancy and afterward
  • Provide personal counseling and education
  • Be at your side to help during your entire labor and delivery, not just the birth
  • Help you give birth with less technology and sometimes fewer medications
  • Refer you to an OB or other specialist if you need more medical attention at any time

A large Canadian study found there are fewer traumas to the infant and mother in deliveries assisted by a certified nurse midwife. There are typically fewer interventions during delivery such as fetal monitoring, episiotomy, and C-sections.

There are several main types in the U.S.:

Certified Nurse-Midwife: trained in both nursing and midwifery.

Certified Midwife: has similar training, but isn’t required to have a nursing degree.

Certified Professional Midwife : a skilled independent professional trained in many different settings.

You can find one in your area through professional associations like the North American Registry of Midwives or the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Many do, but not all. Check with your provider as soon as you decide the midwife is the way to go.

The term doula comes from a Greek word meaning “a woman who serves.” A doula takes the nurturing role that family and community used to play in the birth process.

The doula is at your side, along with your doctor or midwife. They bring a spirit of connection that includes your loved ones in the big event.

Studies show mothers who have a doula on site to give physical and emotional support may need less pain medication. Research shows a doula’s presence during labor and birth improves the outcome for both mom and baby.

A doula acts as a link between you and your medical care team. They’ll:

  • Keep lines of communication open between you and the person that delivers your baby
  • Help you find the right positions and breathing patterns
  • Look for ways to help you stay comfortable
  • Inform you and your support group about your birth options and help you create a plan that’s right for you
  • Involve your partner or other support team at the levels they’re comfortable with

Ask other mothers you know who may have used one. Check DONA International, which maintains a directory of certified doulas in your area.

Some insurance companies offer coverage for doula services. Also, some agencies and hospitals offer programs that provide doula services at no -- or only partial -- cost to you. You also can hire a doula on your own.