Now that you're pregnant, it's time to choose a health care provider for your prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care. While either a doctor or midwife can coordinate your care, other childbirth professionals can also play a role in making your pregnancy a safe, positive experience. Here's an overview of some of the providers you may want on your team.
Your Choices for Prenatal Care and Delivery
Many health care experts provide prenatal care and help with delivery. Most are good choices if you have a healthy pregnancy. Others are specially qualified to help if you have any complications along the way.
Family medicine doctors care for a low-risk pregnancy and birth. That means neither the mom nor baby has complications. If you or your baby do develop any problems during the pregnancy, a family medicine doctor might work with a specialist.
Obstetricians (OBs) take care of pregnant women specifically. An obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) cares for the reproductive health of all women, pregnant or not.
Maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialists are also called perinatologists. These doctors have special training in handling complicated and high-risk pregnancies.
Midwives are specially trained nurses or other types of health professionals. Midwives usually focus on natural childbirth and reducing unnecessary medication and medical care during pregnancy. Midwives care for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies. They also consult with specialists if any problems arise. Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) are licensed to provide care everywhere in the United States, but there are many different types of midwives. Their privileges -- along with policies about insurance coverage -- vary from state to state.
Doulas are non-medical, trained professionals. They support and help you before labor, with labor, and after childbirth.
Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and registered nurses can help before, during, and after your baby's birth.
Your Choice for Pediatrician
It's good to start looking for a pediatrician before your baby is due. You can take the time to find someone you feel comfortable with. Once you have a pediatrician, tell the hospital where you plan to give birth. If your pediatrician has privileges at the hospital you're in, they can start working with you and your baby from birth.
How to Choose the Best Provider for Your Needs
The term “health care provider” includes people, like doctors, midwives, and nurse practitioners (NPs), as well as the places where they work, like hospitals or birthing centers. Finding the best providers depends on your health, your baby's health, and your plans for care and birth. As you meet with potential experts, talk about:
- Your health
- Whether you have pregnancy complications or are likely to develop them
- Whether you would rather avoid unnecessary medical care or pain medicines during birth
- Your personal preferences about things such as:
- Eating and walking while in labor
- Positions for giving birth
- Access to things such as a soaking tub, squat bar, or birth ball
- Policies on taking photographs or videos
- Whether the hospital follows best practices for breastfeeding
- The hospital's C-section rate
- Whether you already have a family doctor or OB/GYN you want to keep working with
- Where you want to deliver your baby -- such as a hospital or birthing center -- and whether your provider is allowed to work with you there
- Whether you will have a say over who can attend the delivery
- Whether the provider is covered by your insurance
How Your Team Works Together
Pregnancy care is often a team effort. Each provider has something to contribute.
- OBs and family doctors often work with nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, dietitians, and others during prenatal visits. One expert may examine you. Another may teach you about pregnancy and childbirth. And still another may give you advice about what to eat and other health choices.
- If your OB is in a group practice, you may see different OBs at your visits. Any one of them may deliver your baby if your doctor isn't available. Consider whether you are comfortable with all the providers in the practice. You may not have any say in who attends your birth when the time comes.
- Midwives in private practice often do all routine prenatal care. They consult with an OB when necessary. They may team up with a second midwife during labor and delivery.
- Midwives, family doctors, and OBs will consult with an MFM specialist if you or your baby have any complications. An MFM specialist may co-manage your care if needed.
- At the birth there may be other experts in your care, including nurses, anesthesiologists, and other staff.