Choosing a Health Care Provider for Your Pregnancy and Childbirth
Choosing who will help care for you during your pregnancy, labor, and delivery is very important. There are several types of health care providers who can care for your needs during pregnancy and childbirth. Be sure to explore your options and evaluate what is most important to you before making a decision.
Some obstetric health care providers to consider include:
- Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs): Specially trained, licensed professionals experienced in providing obstetric and newborn care, CNMs provide comprehensive, family-centered maternity care from the first prenatal visit through labor, delivery, and after the birth of your baby. Midwives are registered nurses who have earned their master's degree in nursing, with a strong emphasis on clinical training in midwifery. Midwives work with obstetricians who are always available to assist if complications occur during pregnancy, labor, or delivery.
- Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB/GYN): A medical doctor who is specially trained to provide medical and surgical care to women, OB/GYNs spend four years after medical school in a residency program studying pregnancy, reproduction, and female medical and surgical problems. To verify the credentials of an obstetrician, contact the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Specialists who mainly provide pregnancy care are obstetricians, while gynecologists primarily provide female reproductive system care.
- Perinatologist: Also called maternal-fetal medicine specialists, a perinatologist is an obstetrician who specializes in the care of women who may face special problems during pregnancy. These include women over age 35; women with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and sexually transmitted diseases; women with inherited (genetic) disorders; and women who have had problems with previous pregnancies. Perinatologists manage high-risk pregnancies, preconception counseling, and sophisticated prenatal diagnosis and treatment.
- Family practitioner (FP): a medical doctor who specializes in the health care of all family members. Some FPs provide normal OB/GYN care, but will refer high-risk pregnancies and other problems to an OB/GYN.
- Doula: a person who specializes in helping families through the childbearing year. Doulas do not provide any clinical care, so they do not replace your obstetric health care provider. Generally, your relationship with your doula will begin during pregnancy. A doula can help you find the appropriate childbirth class, learn birthing techniques, write a birth plan, and more. Most doulas will provide early labor support at home, coming to your home and helping you while you are in labor before you are ready to go to the hospital or birth center. When you are ready to leave for your place of birth she will go with you, or follow in her car. Note: Most insurance providers will not cover the costs of a doula.
How Do I Choose a Health Care Provider for Pregnancy?
Choosing a health care provider for pregnancy depends on your level of risk for pregnancy complications. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a history of previous pregnancy complications, are younger than 18 or 35 and older, you should seek care from a health care provider experienced in treating women with your type of medical condition, such as an OB/GYN or perinatologist. If you are at low risk for complications, your family practitioner or a nurse midwife may be right for you.