The support team you assemble for your childbirth journey plays a pivotal role in the experience. Among the plethora of choices, two key figures stand out: the doula and the midwife. But what are their roles, and which one suits your needs best?

Latham Thomas, Founder of Mama Glow sat down with 21Ninety to shed light on the nuances of birthing support, particularly for Black women.

Differences Between a Doula and a Midwife

21Ninety: How do you define the roles of a doula and a midwife in the birthing process?

Latham Thomas: Doulas are nonclinical care providers that provide emotional, informational, and physical support to people during pregnancy and childbirth. This looks like offering comfort, reassurance, and encouragement throughout the process. The continuous presence that a doula offers grounds the person and gives them a sense of stability during a particularly transformative time. The work of doulas centers support and advocacy. We do not advocate for people but alongside them.

Midwives are healthcare providers who provide care for birthing people along the reproductive health continuum. They actively facilitate the birth of the infant, in a home, birth center or in some cases a hospital setting.

21N: What unique support and advocacy do doulas offer during labor and delivery, and how does this differ from the care provided by midwives?

LT: Midwives are clinical healthcare providers who are licensed to facilitate birth. During labor and delivery, a midwife is tasked with the active role of ushering an infant earthside. A doula offers continuous encouragement, reassurance, and emotional support.

Doulas might lean on physical comfort measures like massages. They work with the birthing person on establishing relaxation techniques and other coping strategies. Doulas also support clients in learning about informed consent and how to navigate the medical system. Doulas stay with the birthing person throughout the labor and delivery. They also support them during the early postpartum period as well. Ultimately, doulas ensure that their clients work with feel propped up at all times.

Clearing the Air on Doulas and Midwives

21N: What are some misconceptions that women may have about the roles of doulas and midwives, and how do you address them?

LT: There are many misconceptions out there, but I think they all speak to the same trend. People conflate the two roles. Doulas and midwives are not the same. Some people assume that doulas only support and promote a specific kind of birth, like a home birth or an unmedicated birth. Another assumption is that midwives are less qualified than other medical professionals, like obstetricians, or that they are only able to facilitate home births.

These misconceptions undoubtedly shape our interactions with other people on the care team and influence policies, legislation, insurance, and even how healthcare funding is distributed.

We need a collective unpacking of thought patterns that privilege certain knowledge and expertise over others in the United States. It’s not that doulas are more or less qualified than other birth workers, in many cases doulas are highly credentialed when they show up to the spaces where they serve. Doulas just support people differently.

21N: Are there stark differences in price points between hiring a doula vs a midwife?

LT: Again, doulas and midwives provide completely different types of care in terms of classification. It would make more sense to compare the rates between a midwife and an OB/GYN since the work is comparable. Midwifery care is typically less expensive than care provided by an OB/GYN.

Doula services can range in pricing from community-based doulas providing services pro-bono or on a sliding scale up to folks offering services at market rate in their region. 

[Pricing also] depends on the location. If you are located in coastal cities like New York or LA, the services are more expensive than if you are located in the mid-west for instance.

How Mama Glow Helps

21N: Could you share any testimonials or stories from Black women who have utilized services through MamaGlow?

LT: We have plenty of stories, many of which we cover on our website. Mama Glow is a global maternal health and education platform that trains and educates aspiring doulas and nurse care managers. They are prepped to serve as the next generation of birth workers who will impact our current medical model. Through the Mama Glow Foundation, we not only provide scholarships to aspiring doulas, but we match our professional doulas with expectant parents in need. The Mama Glow Foundation is the largest provider of pro bono doula services in NYC through the Citywide Doula Initiative.

Regardless of the modes of support, our doulas’ experiences with their clients have been representative of what a growing body of research is finally acknowledging. Birth work is associated with heightened birth satisfaction and reduced rates of intervention.

This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.