An obstetrician is a doctor who specializes in pregnancy, childbirth, and a woman's reproductive system. Although other doctors can deliver babies, many women 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 OB has completed the residency training and passed rigorous written and oral exams.
What Your OB Does
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 OB will also:
- Deliver your babies
- Monitor your health while you recuperate
How Your OB Works With Your Pregnancy Team
Your OB will play a central role before, during, and after your pregnancy.
- OBs 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 OB 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 OB will monitor your progress and, when the time comes, deliver your babies.
- If your OB 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 OB.
Why You Might Need an OB
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 OB:
- If you are over 35 years old or have a high-risk pregnancy, you might want to get your prenatal care from an OB.
- Some women with high-risk pregnancies benefit from seeing a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, an OB 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 OB.
If you are healthy and anticipate a healthy, normal pregnancy, you still may prefer to get your care from an OB.
How to Choose Your OB
When you start your search, ask your doctor for recommendations. You can also ask friends or family if there’s someone they might recommend. The questions below can help you choose the right OB for you.
- Does this doctor have a good reputation?
- What is this doctor's training and experience?
- What is the OB's general approach to pregnancy care and delivery?
- Will the OB support the type of delivery I want (elective induction, natural birth, water birth, no pain meds)?
- Am I comfortable with the OB's views about when to induce labor or perform a C-section?
- What percentage of the OB's patients have C-sections?
- What percentage of the OB's patients have episiotomies, and under what circumstances are they performed?
- If I want to work with a doula, will the OB support that choice?
- How does the OB manage pain during delivery?
- Who covers for the OB when they are not available?
- If another OB might handle the delivery, can I meet them beforehand?
- Does the doctor listen to me and explain things clearly?
- Is my spouse or partner comfortable with this doctor?
- Is the office staff pleasant and helpful?
- Is the office location convenient?
- How are emergencies and after-hour calls handled?
- What hospital is the OB affiliated with?
- Does my insurance cover this doctor's services?