3 Types of Obstetric Healthcare Providers

by Susan Evans

There are three types of obstetric health care providers that may be available to you during your pregnancy: doula, midwife and family practitioner (obstetrician, osteopath and perinatologist). The following list provides details on each one.


  • A doula works with the expectant mother and her partner in developing prenatal care, a labor birth plan and postpartum care.
  • A doula provides informational, emotional and physical support and accompanies the expectant mother in labor.
  • Unlike midwives, doulas do not provide any type of medical or clinical care (i.e. taking blood pressure, examinations, offering medications). However, doulas do learn about the medical aspects of labor in order to assist clients with making decisions regarding procedures and any complications that may arise.
  • Doulas must undergo a certain amount of training and pass exams in order to become certified. Most doulas are certified by DONA International.


  1. The word “midwife” means “with woman.”
  2. A midwife is a licensed and certified health care professional providing 
    • Gynecological examinations
    • Reproductive education
    • Contraceptive counseling
    • Prescriptions
    • Labor, delivery and after-birth care
    • Newborn care
    • Menopausal management
  3. A midwife’s services depend on the certification and licensing credentials obtained and the practice restrictions of each state. They can include but aren’t limited to:
    • Monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle
    • Providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support
    • Minimizing technological interventions
    • Identifying and referring women who require obstetrical attention.
  4. Midwives assist childbirth in different settings including home births, birthing centers or hospitals.

Titles and Certifications

Here are the different titles and certifications for midwifery:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) — A Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) is educated in both nursing and midwifery and has at least a bachelor’s degree. Most CNMs attend births in hospitals or birthing centers but also do attend to home births. In order to be certified, a CNM must graduate from a nurse-midwifery education program and must also pass the American College of Nurse Midwives certification exam. CNMs are legal and can be licensed in all 50 states.
  • Certified Midwife (CM) — Unlike a CNM, a Certified Midwife (CM) does not have training in nursing. In order to receive certification, CMs still must graduate from a midwifery education program and must also pass an exam given by the American College of Nurse Midwives. New York is the only state with CM licensure at this time.
  • Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) — A Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) is a trained midwifery practitioner who has passed certification exams and programs given by the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) and the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council. CPMs are not required to have training in nursing. Legal status for CPMs varies by state.
  • Direct-Entry Midwife (DEM) — A Direct-Entry Midwife (DEM) is a midwifery practitioner educated through self-study, college or university, apprenticeship, workshops or midwifery classes. A DEM may or may not have a college degree. A DEM also may or may not be certified by a state or national midwifery organization. Legal and licensing status varies by state.
  • Licensed Midwife (LM) — A licensed midwife is a midwife who is licensed to practice in a particular jurisdiction (usually a state or province). This title may follow one of the other titles listed above.


Family Practitioners (FPs)

  • In order to be “board-certified”, an FP must have an MD or DO degree from an accredited school, completed three years of a family practice residency program and passed the American Board of Family Practice certification exam. All 50 states license family physicians.
  • Family practitioners offer maternity care and attend births, often working together with an obstetrician.
  • FPs can also continue caring for both the mother and newborn after birth.

Here are some options for you to look into:

  • Obstetricians (OB/GYN) — Obstetricians have specialized training in prenatal care, labor, birth and surgery. Many obstetricians also offer gynecological services as well. In order to be a certified obstetrician, an OB/GYN must have a medical (MD) degree or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree from an accredited school, completed four years of an obstetrics and gynecology residency program and passed the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology certification exam. All 50 states license obstetricians.
  • Osteopaths (DOs) — Osteopaths practice a whole-person approach to medicine. Osteopaths use hands-on diagnosis and treatment with special attention to the relationship between the musculoskeletal structure and organ function. Both DOs and MDs are physicians. Osteopaths can prescribe medications, order medical tests, specialize in a certain field and practice medicine. Osteopaths are “board-certified” if they have a DO degree, complete an osteopathic residency program, and pass the exam given by the American Osteopathic Association. All 50 states license DOs.
  • Perinatologist — A perinatologist is an obstetrician with a specialization in high-risk pregnancies. A certified perinatologist must complete the same requirements as an obstetrician and two or three years of additional training. Perinatologists are also known as maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialists. All 50 states license perinatologists.


The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared their real-life advice; always check with a doctor or other appropriate medical professional you trust before making any healthcare changes.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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