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What is a Perinatologist?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 08, 2021

Perinatologists are doctors who handle high-risk pregnancies. They work with mothers and infants to ensure safety before, during, and after birth.

High-risk pregnancies aren’t always more dangerous or difficult than low-risk pregnancies. The term usually relates to existing conditions or conditions that happen while pregnant. 

Perinatologists are also known as maternal-fetal medicine specialists. They can work in a clinic or hospital, as well as private practice. Your obstetrician will likely refer you to a perinatologist if you have a high-risk pregnancy.

What Do Perinatologists Do?

They do more advanced testing and monitoring than a gynecologist or obstetrician. This may include:

  • Very detailed ultrasounds
  • Tests for congenital disabilities
  • Fetal blood testing. 

Perinatologists can give more reliable and detailed information about your pregnancy and how your pre-existing conditions may affect it.

They also treat new moms after birth if there is a complication during delivery, like an infection or extreme bleeding. 

Reasons to See a Perinatologist

If you need to visit a perinatologist, your gynecologist or obstetrician will usually refer you. Common reasons include: 

  • Being 35 or older 
  • Being over or underweight
  • Carrying one or more babies
  • Abnormal screen test
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • High blood pressure 
  • Injury during your pregnancy
  • Going into labor too early

You’ll also be referred if you had problems during delivery with a previous birth. 

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these issues:

  • Bleeding from the vagina 
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal cramps and pain 
  • Trouble or pain during urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Sudden and severe swelling in the hands, fingers, or face
  • Fever
  • Constant nausea and dizziness

What to Expect from a Perinatologist

You should expect to see your perinatologist regularly before, during, and maybe after your pregnancy. They may do these tests:

Specialized and Targeted Ultrasounds. This is a type of ultrasound that uses high-frequency sound waves to make pictures of your baby in the uterus. Your perinatologist will do this if they think there may be problems with the baby. 

Prenatal Cell-Free DNA Screening. This test takes blood from the mother and the fetus. It can usually show genetic or chromosomal disorders like Down Syndrome or trisomy. 

Invasive Genetic Screening. This screening tests a sample of the protective fluid surrounding the baby. It can show if your baby has brain and spinal issues, as well as certain genetic conditions. 

Lab Tests. The perinatologist will check the routine labwork that is done as part of a healthy pregnancy, and they may also test for additional things like urinary tract infections ormay test you for urinary tract infections or diseases like HIV and syphilis. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

Hackensack Meridian Health: “What to Expect from a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “High-Risk Pregnancy: What You Need to Know.”

Mayo Clinic High-Risk Pregnancy: “Know What to Expect.”

Scripps: “Perinatology.”

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