Midwifery is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, but it isn’t as accessible here as it is in countries like South Korea or Taiwan. Doulas and midwives are trained birth workers who provide birthing people and infants with care during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum periods. However, this role can vary depending on where you live. Here’s a look at how new families around the world are utilizing midwives and doulas.
In the U.S., midwives assist mothers with pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. Some midwives also provide primary care for women including well-exams, health promotion, disease prevention, family planning options, etc. Today, midwives are formally trained and are seeing a resurgence because many mothers didn’t feel comfortable giving birth in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doulas have also seen a spike in popularity. Their goal is to help the mother have a positive and safe birth. They also provide postpartum care to new parents to assist with breastfeeding, bonding, and other necessary support
Pregnancy care is led by a midwife. Your pregnancy will involve several midwife appointments, and you’ll meet with numerous midwives. You likely won’t know who will be helping you with delivery until you’re in labor. Doctors are only brought in for high-risk pregnancies or complications. Midwives help you with breastfeeding and all postpartum care.
Midwifery is such a common practice in Germany that it’s covered by state insurance. Midwives are trained for three years before working with patients. In fact, even if an ob-gyn is delivering your baby, a midwife is required to be in the room during delivery. Doctors are often only there if you have complications.
Midwives may have their own practices or join a hospital. They provide birthing classes, advocate for your birthing experience, assist with breastfeeding, advise on pelvic exercises, and monitor your postpartum care and recovery.
Birthing became more medicalized in the mid-1970s. Before that, all Black women gave birth at home with a midwife according to the Alliance of African Midwives. In South Africa, all midwives require a degree in nursing and work closely with OBs in public or private hospitals/clinics. Doulas check on mothers throughout their pregnancy, monitor progress during labor, and assist with postpartum care.
Mothers use midwives in Israel unless there are complications. To meet this demand, midwives are trained as registered nurses first. They must work at least a year before graduating from midwifery school. Expecting families will choose the hospital they like (not the midwife) to deliver the baby. The midwife’s goal is to help the mother feel comfortable and calm.
Korean midwives must pass the midwives’ national examination after completing a 1-year midwifery probationary course after holding a nurse’s license. The Medical Service Act of Korea states that midwives are tasked with providing health guidance for childbirth, pregnancy, and newborns.
Doulas are trained to support mothers and their partners during pregnancy, birth, and the early weeks of parenting. They are added support — they do not replace the care of a midwife, nurse, or doctor. Doulas focus on emotional support and guidance on topics like relaxation and breathing. They don’t perform clinical tasks like a midwife.
The majority of babies in Taiwan are born via midwife. They manage both childbirth and postpartum care, including nutrition information and infant care after the mother returns home.
A family may also have a doula who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a family with a newborn. They may stay with the mother throughout labor and delivery and then do home visits. Some families also employ doulas as night nurses, so parents can get the rest they need.
While you may be hearing that your friends and family members are using midwives and doulas for the first time, this is a century-old practice used around the world. With midwives and doulas, the care the mother and family receive during birth follows them home. Continued support is offered for breastfeeding, postpartum, and newborn care as you begin this transition.