Women have been giving birth and delivering babies since the dawn of time. (How else would we have gotten here?) With more than 15,000 practicing midwives in the United States, the role of alternative birthing professionals is more important than ever. Although only 10 percent of U.S. births involve a midwife, doula or birth coach, that number is steadily rising as women choose to take control of their pregnancy and delivery. There are a variety of professional certifications, requirements, and exams for different birthing professionals.
A birth coach helps create a plan for a natural childbirth and is present throughout the birth. The birth coach helps women get through labor with breathing techniques, massage and distractions.
Doulas are present before, during and after the birth and provide information and physical and emotional support. They act as a teacher, facilitator and coach to help with labor techniques and support during the first few days of a baby’s life. Typically, a doula does not act as a healthcare provider or perform medical procedures, but acts as a liaison between the mother and medical professionals. A doula also does not diagnose or treat medical issues that may arise with pregnancy.
How to Become a Doula
Doulas follow a similar path to professional certification as midwives, but, like midwives, not all doulas choose to become certified. DONA International provides an international standard of education, requirements and certification. Through a combination of workshops and exams focused on pregnancy, labor, delivery and post-partum care, DONA provides doulas with the training necessary to support a mother and her family throughout the birthing process. Doulas may also be certified or educated in the fields of massage therapy, creative writing or photography, as many doulas offer to photograph the deliver or write a birth journal for the mother and family to keep.
A midwife or certified professional midwife (CPM) is a healthcare provider who is educated in birthing and delivery, often with a focus on natural birthing methods, but is not certified as a nurse. Midwives address the emotional, physical and mental needs of both the mother and baby during pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period. Midwives are often present during homebirths to assist with uncomplicated births, but are also trained to deliver babies in hospitals and birthing centers. They typically handle the medical aspects of prenatal care, birth and delivery. Midwives are usually trained through a midwifery training program or apprenticeship.
How to Become a Midwife
The requirements and professional certifications necessary for CPMs, or non-nurse midwives, to work in hospitals vary from state to state. Some states require a midwife to be licensed with professional certifications, while other don’t require licensing or ban midwives altogether. Certified midwives must complete and education program approved by the country in which she practices and based on the International Confederation of Midwives' Essential Competencies for Basic Midwifery Practice. The education and professional certification requirements for a certified midwife are set by the North American Registry of Midwives.
Certified Nurse Midwife
A certified nurse midwife, or CNM, shares the same responsibilities as a midwife, but has also completed licensing and professional certification through a nursing school before going through midwife training. Hospitals typically prefer to have nurse midwives assist in labor and delivery as opposed to non-nurse midwives.
How to Become a CNM
CNMs must be licensed as a nurse and also complete an education based on the requirements of the American College of Nurse-Midwives. The North American Registry of Midwives also offers certification for CNMs. For both types of midwives, NARM’s education, licensing and professional certifications include competency-based standards to acknowledge the value of pregnancy and birthing skills learned outside the traditional avenues of education. Whether you're looking to become a birth coach, doula, midwife or CNM, the key to success is educating yourself on the physical, emotional and mental aspects of childbirth and how your presence can help a women through this amazing, yet difficult, process of new life.