Royal baby watch: Did Meghan Markle have a doula or a midwife? Experts explain the difference

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor

Meghan Markle gave birth to a royal baby boy on Monday. While the public has still not learned the details around the newborn’s much-anticipated arrival, some frenzied rumors include that the duchess might have had her baby at home at Frogmore Cottage rather than a hospital, and that she’d hired a doula to help her through labor.

So, what the heck is a doula, anyway? And how is it different from a midwife, which was also among the rumors of possible royal-birth hires?

In simplest terms, a 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,” according to DONA International, the world’s largest doula-certification agency, founded in 1992.

A midwife, on the other hand, is a highly trained health professional who assists women throughout the birth process, either in hospitals or at home, and who also provides pre- and post-natal care. Midwives are employed by women who have medically uncomplicated pregnancies and, typically, who want a more natural-birth experience, as they approach birth not from a medical perspective, like that of physicians, but as a normal physiologic event, sticking to the woman-led Midwifery Model of Care, transferring high-risk pregnancies to obstetricians.

While midwives are at births to ensure healthy outcomes for both mom and baby, a doula’s primary concern is the laboring mother. “It doesn’t mean you’ll have the perfect birth, but it does mean that someone will be there as your guide, 100 percent, and is not there for anybody else,” Ann Grauer, a DONA-certified doula who has attended births and led trainings for 30 years, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And to have someone completely on your side, I think, fills a spot in your DNA.”

Doulas can be effective allies at births no matter where they take place. “Hospitals can be a good place to birth, but a challenging place to birth,” Grauer says, referring to strict protocols and pressure about medical interventions that could sometimes make it difficult to stick to desired birth plans. “Doulas are there making sure you’re feeling good about things,” she says. “It’s hard to be cognizant of what’s going on around you, and that’s where we come in.” Doulas can serve as knowledgeable advocates, she adds, and “rather than us being your voice… we help you find your own voice.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on March 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo: Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage)

At home births, meanwhile, “Doulas and midwives are like the perfect team,” Grauer says, adding that it’s never excessive, in her opinion, to have both present. “I’ve never heard a woman say to me, ‘Wow, I had too much support.’”

When deciding whether or not to hire a doula, the expecting mom or couple will want to take a few things into consideration, says Debra Flashenberg, a DONA-certified doula and owner of the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City.

“If they are looking for someone to add an extra layer of continuous, unbiased support from someone not intimately involved in the birth, like a partner or relative, they should consider hiring a doula,” she says. “Adding a doula to the birth posse or birth team doesn’t have to mean you want an unmedicated birth — I had a ton of clients who intended on taking pain medication at some point. They wanted someone who could offer physical, emotional and informational support and was independent of the hospital.”

Further, Flashenberg adds, “Some people also have a lot of fear around birth, or carry past trauma. Having a doula could provide assurance, or another layer of comfort.”

Even with an incredibly supportive partner, she explains, “there can be limits,” especially if it’s the first birth experience. “They will be watching someone they deeply love go through a very intense experience, which may not allow them to step away see what is normal in labor,” Flashenberg says. “Many times, I would get a call from the partner after the first big contraction that they are ready to rush off to the hospital, when in fact, they are just turning the corner into active labor.”

She adds, “A truly respectful doula should enhance the experience for both the partner and the laboring person, and not necessarily take the place of a partner.”

Then, following the birth of the baby, there’s another type of support that can be hugely beneficial — that of a post-partum doula, whose focus is still 100 percent on the new mom.

“For my first birth, I would have been a hot mess without my postpartum doula,” Flashenberg, a mom of two, says. “They are, again, not emotionally involved, and come fresh and awake to support the new family. They have skills that even second-time parents may be a bit rusty on, and can offer support for those who decide to breastfeed.”

Notes Grauer, “A post-partum doula is the missing link. This is the place in America where we’ve dropped the ball horribly… We don’t tend too well to your psyche and heart while giving birth, and then, unless you’ve had a home birth, we just send you home all alone. It’s one of the most destructive ways to start parenthood.”

Post-partum doulas help new moms adjust to practicalities like their new bodies, breastfeeding, newborn care, and even “field trips,” like accompanying mother and baby on their first outings together. “It’s like mothering the mother,” she says. “You wind up feeling stronger and more in charge of your life even sooner.”

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