Obstetricians (also called obstetrician-gynecologists or OB-GYNs) are sometimes called pregnancy doctors. They're specially trained to take care of pregnant women, to manage high-risk pregnancies, and to deliver babies. Obstetricians can also perform C-sections (Cesarean sections) and other gynecological surgeries.
Many women will choose an obstetrician to care for them during their pregnancy. Some family doctors are also trained to care for pregnant women. And some women prefer to see a midwife instead of, or in addition to, a doctor. You can read a LoveToKnow article about midwives by clicking here.
If you choose a family doctor or midwife and then develop a problem with your pregnancy, your health care provider may refer you to an obstetrician for more specialized care.
What to Expect from Your Pregnancy Doctor
If you choose an obstetrician to care for you during your pregnancy, make sure the doctor has the right credentials and a good reputation. Obstetricians should be "board-certified," which means that they have passed a rigorous exam and are in good standing with the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). You can use the ABOG web site to find a board-certified obstetrician near you, or to see if your doctor is certified.
A good obstetrician will help you understand what to expect during your pregnancy. He/she should take a thorough health history at the first visit and discuss any health problems that might affect your pregnancy. Your obstetrician should be willing to answer your questions in a way you can understand. Not every woman will get along with every doctor. Don't be afraid to switch if you aren't comfortable with your care.
At Your Prenatal Appointments
At different stages of the pregnancy, a prenatal appointment might involve anything from a quick conversation to a full gynecological exam. As your pregnancy progresses, your obstetrician will keep track of the size of your uterus, feeling your abdomen to find the top of the uterus and then using a paper ruler to measure from there to your pubic bone. Your pregnancy doctor will also begin checking for the baby's heartbeat by placing a bit of gel on your abdomen to help transmit the sound to a simple ultrasound monitor.
Your prenatal appointments will probably include questions about your diet, your general health, how much the baby is moving, and if you are having any problems or concerns.
At specific dates during the pregnancy, you will be offered ultrasound tests to check the baby's development, blood and urine tests to check for diabetes and other problems, and a blood test to help determine the risk of certain birth defects.
When It's Time to Give Birth
Most obstetricians will strongly encourage you to give birth in a hospital. That's because, if something goes wrong, your pregnancy doctor wants you to have the best possible care as soon as possible. If having a home birth is very important to you, discuss it with your pregnancy doctor as soon as possible. If he/she is not supportive, you may choose to reconsider your plans or switch to a different doctor.
Most of the time, your obstetrician will be present for the birth. But if your baby comes on a day when your obstetrician is out of town, or taking a much-needed day off, one of his/her partners may attend the birth instead. Ask your obstetrician if this might happen. You may be able to meet the other doctors in the practice, so at least their faces will be familiar.
Don't be disappointed if your obstetrician isn't in the room for most of your labor. He/she is probably taking care of many other patients. Your nurse will call your doctor if there are any complications and will notify him/her when it's time for the delivery.
What to Ask Your Doctor
If you've chosen a specific hospital to give birth, make sure your doctor will be able to see you there.
Not all pregnancy doctors agree on issues like when to induce labor, what kind of pain control to use, whether or not to do an episiotomy, and whether or not to use midwives and doulas. If you're interested in alternatives practices like water birth or home birth, find out if your doctor is comfortable with what you want.
You may want to ask your doctor's opinion on c-sections, especially if a vaginal birth is important to you. There are times when c-section is essential to save the mother or baby's life, but many experts feel that c-sections are often done unnecessarily.
Be sure to bring up any other questions or concerns as they arise. To a good obstetrician, no question is stupid or silly if it helps you understand and feel good about your pregnancy!