Now, I know there is a lot of confusion about what a doula is, what they actually do and whether they are the same as a midwife. A birth doula is a non-clinical coach or guide that offers emotional, mental, physical, educational and sometimes even spiritual support during pregnancy, birth and the immediate postpartum period. A doula is the birthing woman’s advocate and is not bound by institutional policies or procedures, thus has a unique vantage point in the pregnancy and birthing process.
A doula, to put it simply, gets access to the stuff no one else sees!
Student midwives are often suggested as a means of support for the birthing mother because they are free, whereas a doula will charge for their services.
While there are many benefits to having a student midwife present, there are certainly limitations to the services a student midwife can offer. A student midwife is going through clinical training and school in order to provide a pregnant and birthing mother clinical support, intervention and information.
Sadly, a student midwife and even a qualified midwife, cannot always guarantee they will be present at the birth or for the prenatal appointments leading up to the big event of birth, unless, depending on your state and availability, you are part of a care program that allows the continuation of care with a midwife.
A doula is able to offer the consistent continuation of care for the entire duration of the pregnancy, birth and some of the postpartum period. She is also present for the same woman at each appointment and is able to focus purely and solely on that one pregnancy and mother as she is not on a 12 hour shift. A student midwife will need to finish their shift if the 12 hours is up, regardless of how the labour has progressed and whether or not the baby has been born. Often the mother who has opted to have a doula present will feel safer and more in control of their body autonomy, understood, heard, seen and validated because the doula has formed a relationship with the mother over the span of the pregnancy, one that is founded on respect and advocacy for the mother.
A doula can assist and offer support to the birthing mother in all stages of labour, including if she is labouring at home. A student midwife’s care does not begin until the mother has arrived at her chosen place of birth, or if it is in the later, more active stages of birth at home. Both a student midwife and a doula are present to take care of the woman and her needs during labour and a student midwife must know when to provide medical/clinical advice. If the birthing mother wanted to change her birth plan or had questions, a doula advocates and helps her find the information she needs, whereas a student midwife may not necessarily be able to offer that on the spot or have the answers.
Natalia Hailes and Ash Spivak’s brilliant, informative and punchy book “Why did no one tell me this? The Doulas’ Honest Guide for Expectant Parents” (link as follows: WDNTMT – WE’RE PUTTING THE POWER OF A DOULA DIRECTLY …) says, “Midwives are trained to view health care as a collaborative process. While obstetric education involves learning a myriad of skills to manage complications of birth, typically in a one-size-fits-most model, midwifery education is all about viewing birth as a normal event… Working with a midwife also lessens your chance of having an episiotomy, vacuum/forceps delivery, and C-section while increasing the likelihood of being satisfied with your birth”.
While we can agree there is a place for BOTH midwives and doulas, depending on your support needs and desires, a doula is the one person you can count on to be fully available and fully present at each appointment, the start and end of your labour and birth and right through to that glorious, messy postpartum period. I would consider it a worthy investment to have someone who is pro you 110% of the way as you embark on the wonderful journey of parenthood and beyond.
Having a student midwife present will never be a bad thing, however the fact that they are still training means their limitations are very similar to that of a doula. Some doulas have been a part of tens or even hundreds of births and have been the support person for many, many pregnant/birthing mothers but a student midwife has to attend only 6 births as a part of their training*, which strongly indicates the level of experience and familiarity in this vulnerable environment can be vastly different between that of a doula and that of a student midwife.
In saying that, when a doula and a midwife team up and work together for the sake of the birthing mother, the mother is highly likely to have a beautifully positive birthing experience. It is certainly not one against the other, but one with the other that will help all involved, and will hopefully contribute to the much needed culture shift in the Australian maternity system. I believe having two SEPARATE support systems that are able to respectfully collaborate is important. What is also important is that a hierarchy doesn’t exist in your birth space and having the two separate support systems will help reinforce the idea of teamwork and working towards a greater goal of taking care of the mother and the baby.
Birth is incredibly transformational and because it’s such an ordinary part of life, we can forget that it’s actually a huge deal and to grow a human and birth it is totally badass; it’s extraordinary!
Doulas? I’ll take two, thanks!
My name is Charlotte Rodgers, and I am a training doula who is studying at the Doula Training Academy with Vicki Hobbs. If you would like to connect and talk more about your birthing options, you can reach me at:
Business Name: The Fourth Collective
Business Email: [email protected]
Instagram Link: https://www.instagram.com/thefourth.co
Phone: 0478 126 390
* I interviewed 2nd year midwifery student, Elouise O’Brien who is studying at Australian Catholic University located in Melbourne, Victoria. Her course requirements in regard to attending births are being present at 6 births but following 10 pregnant women from the start to their postnatal period, over the course of her degree. There are other births she will be present for, however 6 is the requirement to meet. Please note that these numbers may vary from state to state.
All photos are from Melissa Jean Photography