Doula vs midwife. What is the difference?

doula vs midwife
Women and their partners ask me this question often. It’s very normal to look to establish what everyone’s roles are in supporting a birth. It is important for women to understand who they want on their birth team. It is equally important for partners, to understand what role they play as they can often worry about how they fit in if an additional person (a doula) is added to the team.
Over the years I have found this to be the best analogy to help explain the roles in the journey.

You and your partner are front and centre.

Imagine your labouring and birth journey as an epic hike up the great mountains of the Himalayas. You and your partner have decided to embark on this hike together, this is your adventure from start to finish and beyond.

What does a doula do?

Your doula is the Sherpa. She is chosen by you and works for you. She has walked this trail with countless other couples through clear skies and storms. She will train you and your partner physically and psychologically for the hike to ensure you are ready for anything that lays ahead. She will help you navigate the winding paths of the track by ensuring you understand your choices and the potential outcomes. You have built trust in her during your training, she understands what you both want from the journey together and she is your unwavering strong hold of support for every step of the way. When the time comes to really climb, push past mental and physical barriers, make hard decisions, know when to rest and when to dig deeper, know what is safe (when labouring at home and in the hospital), how to navigate blocks in the path, she is always there, lightening the load, showing you the possible ways, always believing you will make it to the top. Your doula will be focussed only on you and your partner and will be able to assist you in ways that are not otherwise available to you.

What does a Midwife do?

Your Midwives are your medic stops. They work for the hospital. Typically, in the maternity care system you meet your midwives for the first time on the day you labour. You may have 1, 2 or 3 different midwives during your journey depending on shift changes. Midwifery Group Practice midwives and Homebirth midwives are different. They will have developed a relationship with you during your pregnancy. Midwives are skilled medical professionals. They make sure you are both medically well and clinically cared for when you reach the check points. They provide the medical safety net, whilst also following the hospitals guidelines for care. They provide essential support and care at different times though the pregnancy and labour. They create thorough time-consuming documentation during the birth.  They are often supporting other couples at the same time during labour and birth and will come in and out, thus the medical checkpoint analogy. During all stages of this mountain hike and beyond, your midwives will make sure you and your baby are medically safe. If you connect with your midwife, she can be your angel.

What does an obstetrician do?

An Obstetrician (OB) should be your helicopter rescue. If you or your baby need to be airlifted off the mountain, to be supported using obstetric instruments or a caesarean section.

Obstetricians are available in the public or private system.  In the private system the Obstetrician is the main care provider during pregnancy and will come to your birth right at the end.

For women with complex needs for clinical care this can be the best option and there are some amazing OB’s that practice evidence based, women centred care.

Your birthing team coming together

When a woman, her partner, the doula, midwives, and obstetricians work together with synergy this journey up the mountain is magical.

“Asking your husband to be your sole guide through labour is like asking him to lead the way on a climb of Mt. Everest. He may be smart and trustworthy, and you may love him, but in the Himalayas you’d both be a lot better off with a Sherpa!” – Pam England.



Danae is a Sydney birth doula and pregnancy support specialist. She works with families to provide guidance, information, emotional and physical support during pregnancy and birth.

Danae is Sydney’s first (and only) Optimal Maternal Positioning (OMP) Birth Educator & pregnancy (prenatal) yoga teacher.

If you have any questions about birth and pregancy support and her doula services, don’t hesitate to contact Danae directly.