What Is an Obstetrician?

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.

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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, he or she 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on October 20, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Board of Medical Specialties: "About Physician Specialties. Obstetrics and Gynecology."

March of Dimes: "Choosing Your Prenatal Care Provider."

American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology: "Frequently Asked Questions."

Medline Plus: "Health Problems in Pregnancy."

Medline Plus: "Pregnancy Care."

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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