Doulas, Midwives, Baby Nurses … How To Know What Kind of Support You Need.

difference among doula and midwife

Birth and labor doula, midwife, postpartum doula, nighttime doula, baby nurse, nighttime nurse, nanny, babysitter and “mother’s helper.” There are so many options out there for care and support when someone is giving birth and then again when baby comes home. What’s the difference among all of them and how do you know which you need?

Here is the breakdown of the different kinds of support.

Birth doula (also known as labor doula)

Birth doulas support the birthing person and their partner wherever they give birth – hospital, birthing center or home. Their focus is on the birther; not the baby.

DONA, the oldest certifying body of doulas explains that a birth doula is…

a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.


Midwives help birth the baby. Their focus is to deliver a healthy baby while also making sure the the birthing parent is in no danger. They…

are trained professionals with expertise and skills in supporting women to maintain healthy pregnancies and have optimal births and recoveries during the postpartum period.


Postpartum Doula

Postpartum doulas are trained professionals, offering emotional, practical and hands-on support to new parents during the postpartum period. They offer evidence-based information and resources and also support the family as a whole, including partners and siblings. Their care might include breastfeeding/bottle feeding support, baby’s first bath, nursery organization, food prep, postpartum depression screening and more.

baby's first bath

Nighttime Postpartum Doula

Nighttime postpartum doulas are also trained professionals. They work during the overnight hours, typically from 10pm-6am. Because newborns are naturally nocturnal, these doulas stay awake with the baby. They will let parents sleep while tending to the baby. They also support parents as they deal with feeding issues or other postpartum concerns that may arise during the night.

Baby Nurse (or Night Nurse)

These caregivers may or may not be RNs. Make sure to check their credentials if a registered nurse is what you’re looking for. A baby or night nurse attends to the baby at night when the parent wants to sleep. They will bring baby to the parents in order to nurse or will bottle feed them. They are there solely for the baby; not the parents.

Nanny, Babysitter and Mother’s Helper

These caregivers may or may not be trained to care for babies. Nannies and babysitters can take care of the baby when the parents are in or out of the house. A mother’s helper is a non-professional who does household tasks or helps care for the baby while the parents are home.

Now that you know the differences, how do you know who you need?

Ask these questions of yourself and the answer may become clearer.

  1. What kind of support do I want during my labor/delivery?
  2. Do I want support during my labor/delivery to focus on me and my partner?
  3. Do I want support during my labor/delivery to focus on the delivery of my baby?
  4. Once I return home, do I want support postpartum?
  5. Do I want postpartum support that focuses on me and my family?
  6. Do I want postpartum support that focuses on my baby?
  7. Are household chores and taking care of other children areas in which I’d like the most help.
  8. Is it important to me to have postpartum support during the daytime hours (when I’d need to eat, shower, nap, process feelings, breast or bottle feed, take care of baby, etc…)?
  9. Do I want postpartum support during the nighttime hours (when I’d want to sleep, feed baby).
  10. Do I want a trained professional?
  11. Does my baby have any medical issues?

Once you’ve answered these questions, the type of support you’re looking for may become crystal clear. Or, you may realize that you need more than one kind of support. You may need two, to work in tandem or different kinds of support at different times during your “fourth trimester” and beyond.

doula bottle feeding

Whatever you decide, planning ahead can help relieve you of some stress, lock in the people you want and allow you to focus on the here and now.

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