Doula vs. Birth Assistant

This is a question I am often asked, and while I cannot speak for all midwife assistants and doulas I can tell you about the difference in roles for me!

Birth/midwife Assistant:
* Hired by birth center.
* Meet you at the birth, but may run into you around town sometimes afterwards! 🙂
* Arrives generally when you are well into labor, sometimes transition if you're going fast.
* Remains with you at the birth center until you leave, and remains after to restock and clean.
* Assists midwife with medical care: blood pressure, heart tones, pulse & respiration, monitoring baby & momma postpartum. (This varies from one birth center to the next.)
* Assists with establishing nursing.
* Attends births only at specific birth center.
* Does NOT transport with you if moved to hospital.
* Takes a photo of you postpartum (with signed release) to be shared on the birth center FB page only.
* Is there primarily to assist the midwife in ensuring mom and baby are doing well, but also provides some emotional and physical support to mom as able.
* Works on 12 to 24 hours shifts, and while we try to keep the same birth assistant with you throughout labor and postpartum there are times a shift change is necessary.

Doulas:
* Hired by parents.
* Meet with you for consultation & prenatal visits, usually in your home, to go over comfort techniques, birth plan, hopes and concerns for birth, and to get to know you.
* Arrives when you are in active labor, though remains in touch with you through early labor.
* Remains with you one to two hours postpartum, until you've been fed, nursed the baby, etc.
* Does not provide any type of medical care.
* Assists with establishing nursing, checking in with you in the first days after birth to answer further questions and connect you with more resources for lactation support if needed.
* Attends births at any location - home, birth center, hospital.
* Transports with you if moving from one birth location to hospital, and can be with you in the OR if cesarean birth becomes necessary (depending on circumstance/doctor approval.
* Provides birth photography (with signed release), including online gallery, digital images with print release, customized App button for mobile devices, sneak peaks on FB if requested, etc.
* Is there solely to focus on mom and dad's needs, is not hired by anyone else.
* Works with you throughout your entire active labor and birth, with emergency back up doulas available if necessary to labor sit. Whether 4 hours or 24 hours, your doula is there!
* Creates a printed & digital birth timeline based on notes taken during your labor and birth.
* Remains available for email & phone support throughout pregnancy and postpartum stage, connecting you with local resources and answering questions.
* Provides reading materials and information, access to a lending library, use of a birth tub if laboring at home, little perks like herbal bath and spare chux pads, baby's first birthday card & doula baby shirts.
* Brings the amazing Mary Poppins doula bag complete with rice pack, fan, essential oils, mints, rebozo, and all that great camera equipment to capture moments like this! (I try to get nice photos on my phone when I'm the birth assistant, to share on the birth center page - but my camera phone pictures cannot compare to my REAL birth photos.) 😉

So as you can see they are two very different roles. While a birth assistant LOVES to be able to provide hands on care and emotional support, suggesting comfort techniques and heating up rice packs for you, our number one priority is assist the midwife. We also don't have the opportunity to get to know you, your hopes for the birth, your concerns, and to continue a relationship with you before and after the birth. If you transport to the hospital then the birth assistant, as an employee of the birth center, does not follow.

That said - I LOVE being a birth assistant, and I love being a doula. They are two distinct roles that challenge and reward me in different ways. I hope that helps clarify for you!

And as a birth assistant, I LOVE when parents have hired a doula! Then I know they're getting the emotional support they need when I must focus on medical care. As a doula I love working with my co-workers as birth assistants. They're each wonderful and talented.

Any questions, send me an email! I can be reached at heidi@thadenpierce.org. Thank you!

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6 Responses to Doula vs. Birth Assistant

  1. anne says:

    Thank you for making this distinction. I feel that we get confused with midwives, etc. as well. The more people know about doulas, the better they will understand our role. I live in a place where I am still getting the “A do-what?” question when I say the word doula. lol

  2. Taylor Mono says:

    How do you become a midwife assistant?

  3. Nelly Uriostegui says:

    I have read your articles on your site and I love it. I would like to know how to become a birth assistant in transition to a doula. I understand they are not the same but I’m just not sure where to start. I am a medical assitant and would love to learn more about birth and L&D. I currently work in the OB/GYN department of a great hospital organization and I have completely fell in love with OB!! I would love to learn more about this field and I feel that having that knowledge and skill with practice as Doulas and birth assitants do will really help me in pursuing my goal. I appreaciate so much the feedback.

    • Heidi Thaden-Pierce says:

      Nelly, there are many organizations that offer doula certifications but the two I know best are BAI (I trained through them years ago) or Birth Boot Camp (I know the program creator well and it’s a fantastic training.) Here are their links:

      BBC

      BAI

      BAI also offers a midwife training program, but I’ve found locally that most midwives/birth centers like to train their own midwife assistants as each has their own protocol for doing things. I hope that helps!!

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