Pediatricians and Obstetricians: What Do They Do?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 17, 2023
6 min read

One of the many things you need to do to prepare for your baby's arrival is to choose a doctor to oversee their health care. A pediatrician is a medical doctor who manages the physical, behavioral, and mental care for children from birth until age 18. A pediatrician is trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of childhood illnesses, from minor health problems to serious diseases.

Pediatricians have graduated from medical school and completed a 3-year residency program in pediatrics. A board-certified pediatrician has passed rigorous exams given by the American Board of Pediatrics. To remain certified, pediatricians have to meet regular continuing education requirements.

Your pediatrician will see your baby many times from birth to age 2 and annually from age 2 to age 5 for "well-child visits." After age 5, your pediatrician will likely see your child every year for annual checkups. Your pediatrician is also the first person to call whenever your child is sick. In caring for your child, a pediatrician will:

  • Do physical exams
  • Give recommended immunizations
  • Make sure your child is meeting developmental milestones in growth, behavior, and skills
  • Diagnose and treat your child's illnesses, infections, injuries, and other health problems
  • Give you information about your child's health, safety, nutrition, and fitness needs
  • Answer your questions about your child’s growth and development
  • Refer to and collaborate with a specialist should your child become ill and need care beyond the pediatrician's expertise

An obstetrician is a doctor who specializes in pregnancy, childbirth, and a woman's reproductive system. Although other doctors can deliver babies, many people see an obstetrician, also called an OB/GYN. Your obstetrician can take care of you throughout your pregnancy, and give you follow-up care such as annual Pap tests for years to come. 

OB/GYNs have graduated from medical school and completed a four-year residency program in obstetrics and gynecology. The residency trains them in pre-pregnancy health, pregnancy, labor and childbirth, health problems after childbirth, genetics, and genetic counseling. A board-certified obstetrician has completed the residency training and passed rigorous written and oral exams.

During your pregnancy, your OB will:

  • Monitor your health and your developing babies' health, including doing routine ultrasounds, measurements, and tests
  • Check for health conditions that could cause problems during your pregnancy or affect your babies' health, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, and genetic disorders
  • Advise you about diet, exercise, medications, and staying healthy
  • Help you cope with morning sickness, back and leg pain, heartburn, and other common pregnancy complaints
  • Answer your questions about pregnancy and your growing baby
  • Explain what will happen during labor and delivery 

Your obstetrician will also:

  • Deliver your babies
  • Monitor your health while you recuperate

Most hospitals ask if you have a pediatrician when you go in to deliver. Your baby’s first examination may be with a hospital pediatrician or your chosen pediatrician. This depends on hospital policy and whether your pediatrician makes rounds at the hospital where you deliver, and whether your baby was born early.

If your baby is born early, they will probably go right to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Highly specialized NICU doctors and nurses will care for your baby and monitor their health until they develop enough to come home.

Your pediatrician will be given the records from your baby’s stay in the hospital. After you leave the hospital, your pediatrician will see your baby 48 to 72 hours after discharge, then regularly after that for "well-child visits."

If your child ever needs more specialized care, your pediatrician will coordinate care with other health care professionals. They will help you understand complex information and help you make decisions as needed.

Your obstetrician will play a central role before, during, and after your pregnancy.

Obstetricians work together with nurses, nurse-midwives, physician assistants, and other health professionals to provide your care. You may see these team members during your routine prenatal visits. 

Your obstetrician may recommend that you and the dad-to-be attend pregnancy education or childbirth classes led by nurses or childbirth educators.

When the big day arrives, nurses or labor coaches will help you through the hard work of labor, but your obstetrician will monitor your progress and, when the time comes, deliver your babies.

If your obstetrician is in a group practice where the doctors share "on call" duties, another doctor in the group may deliver your babies. Be sure to ask about this when choosing your obstetrician.


Family doctors and midwives can also coordinate your pregnancy care, but there are certain situations where it may be important to seek care from an obstetrician: 

If you are over 35 years old or have a high-risk pregnancy, you might want to get your prenatal care from an obstetrician.

Some women with high-risk pregnancies benefit from seeing a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, an obstetrician with advanced training in complicated pregnancies.

If a family practice doctor or midwife is providing your pregnancy care, and you develop complications, they will probably consult with or refer you to an obstetrician.

If you are healthy and anticipate a healthy, normal pregnancy, you still may prefer to get your care from an obstetrician.

Family doctors can also provide routine care for your child. Choosing between a family doctor and a pediatrician can be a personal preference. Here are some reasons to consider choosing a pediatrician:

  • Pediatricians have specialized training in the physical, emotional, and behavioral needs of children.
  • Pediatricians only see children, so they often have a broader experience recognizing and treating childhood illnesses.
  • If your baby was born early or has a health condition that needs close monitoring, a pediatrician may offer more specialized care.

It's a good idea to begin looking for a pediatrician at the beginning of your third trimester. You'll want to give yourself plenty of time to find someone both you and your partner feel comfortable with. Ask your obstetrician and trusted family and friends for recommendations. If possible, schedule an in-person interview to get a feel for the doctor’s office and how well you connect.

Here are some questions to consider in making your choice.

  • Does this doctor have a good reputation?
  • What are this doctor's training and experience?
  • Does the pediatrician respect my philosophy on breastfeeding and immunizations?
  • Does the doctor listen to me and explain things clearly?
  • Will my child see the same doctor every time?
  • Who covers for the pediatrician when they are not available?
  • Is the office staff pleasant and helpful?
  • Is the office location convenient?
  • How long does it take to get an appointment?
  • Does the pediatrician offer evening and weekend hours? Who sees my child during these hours?
  • How are emergencies and after-hour calls handled?
  • What hospital is the pediatrician affiliated with?
  • Does my insurance cover this doctor's services?

If you move or change insurance, look for a new doctor well before your child needs a checkup or becomes sick.

When you start your search, ask your doctor for recommendations. You can also ask friends or family if there’s someone they might recommend. Besides the doctor’s reputation, training and experience here are some specific questions to help you choose the right obstetrician for you. 

  • What is the obstetrician's general approach to pregnancy care and delivery?
  • Will the obstetrician support the type of delivery I want (elective induction, natural birth, water birth, no pain meds)?
  • Am I comfortable with the obstetrician's views about when to induce labor or perform a C-section?
  • What percentage of the obstetricianB's patients have C-sections?
  • What percentage of the obstetrician's patients have episiotomies, and under what circumstances are they performed?
  • If I want to work with a doula, will the obstetrician support that choice?
  • How does the obstetrician manage pain during delivery?
  • Who covers for the obstetrician when they are not available?
  • If another obstetrician might handle the delivery, can I meet them beforehand?
  • Is my spouse or partner comfortable with this doctor?