Labor and Delivery: Types of Doctors
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Types of Doctors for Labor and Delivery

How to choose a doctor for your pregnancy

Once you find out you’re pregnant, the decision-making begins. You’ll need to choose the doctor who will oversee your pregnancy and eventually deliver your baby. The doctor you choose will have a big role throughout your pregnancy. It’s important that you make an informed decision.

There are several types of doctors that are medically trained to deliver your baby when the time comes. Family practitioners and obstetrician-gynecologists, or OB-GYNs, are some of the most popular medically trained doctors that can deliver your baby. You should keep certain factors in mind, such as getting the best doctor if you are high-risk or experiencing complications. You want to make sure that you have the most highly trained doctor for your specific pregnancy.

Learn about the different types of midwives »

Family practitioners

Training

Family practitioners are primary care doctors. They care for a broad spectrum of medical conditions, from earaches in children to heart failure in older adults. Family practitioners usually have three years of training beyond medical school. They generally have a broad range of knowledge on a variety of different disciplines of medicine. Although the training and certification process for most family practitioners is very similar, some choose to emphasize obstetrics and undergo additional training.

In rural areas, there may be no obstetric specialist nearby, or there may be only a few to choose from. It’s common for family practitioners in rural areas to perform most deliveries. However, some family practitioners do practice and deliver babies in major urban or university centers as well. They can take care of you during and after your pregnancy in addition to delivering your baby.

Specialty

Family practitioners mostly care for women with low-risk pregnancies. They refer women with significant problems to an OB-GYN. Most family practitioners don’t perform cesarean sections. Some family practitioners are experienced in forceps and vacuum deliveries. Others prefer to refer women who need these types of deliveries to specialists.

The experience of family practitioners delivering babies varies widely. You should be sure to discuss these issues with your doctor if you are considering a family practitioner for your obstetric care. Ask questions about your family practitioner’s training and experience in obstetrics. You should also ask about their experience in handling emergencies and performing cesarean sections and if an OB-GYN is available for backup.

Some women prefer their family practitioner because of the continuity of care. The experience of a doctor who knows your history and has previously treated you can be an advantage. Potential disadvantages include less training in obstetrics and the possible need to call in another practitioner to help with a complication or emergency. Though your family practitioners are medically trained to deliver babies, it’s only a small part of their training. You may have to see a specialist if certain problems arise.

Obstetrician-gynecologist

Training

Most women in the United States choose to have their babies delivered by an OB-GYN. OB-GYNs are doctors who have completed four years of training in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. These doctors are trained to provide a wide range of women's healthcare services. They can range from normal to complicated obstetrics. Their main focus is on pregnancy and women’s health concerns.

Specialty

Most OB-GYNs undergo rigorous training. They’re required to be board-certified to practice in the United States. OB-GYNs can provide specialized care that may not be available from non-obstetric specialists. These specialist doctors are equipped to deal with the entire range of pregnancies, from uncomplicated, low-risk deliveries to many kinds of high-risk deliveries.

You should find a board-certified OB-GYN to handle your pregnancy if your doctor determines that it’s high-risk.

Maternal-fetal medicine specialist

Training

Maternal-fetal medicine is a subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology. Maternal-fetal medicine doctors are sometimes called perinatologists. In addition to completing traditional medical school, they have completed a four-year standard training program in obstetrics and gynecology. They also have completed an extra two to three years of specialized training in dealing with problem or high-risk pregnancies. In the United States, they will be board-certified in both specialties.

Specialty

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists offer specialized care for pregnant women and their fetuses. They are trained to help when pregnancies are not routine. Special cases can include:

  • twin or multiple births
  • preeclampsia
  • hypertension
  • chronic health problems
  • a fetus with an abnormal growth

They can start treatment even before your baby is born if they find a problem during your pregnancy. Because of the extensive training required, the number of maternal-fetal medicine specialists in the United States is limited.

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists are trained to deal with the highest risk pregnancies. For the most part, they practice in either academic centers affiliated with medical schools or other large tertiary care facilities. They generally partner with multiple healthcare providers to consult, co-manage, or directly care for you and your baby before, during, and after pregnancy. They perform specialized procedures in addition to ultrasound and amniocentesis. They also generally provide consultation to community obstetricians and family practitioners for pregnancies with complex issues. These may include:

  • serious medical illnesses
  • prematurity
  • twin or multiple births

Women without risk factors usually don’t need care by these subspecialists.

Making the right choice

You can find a doctor in a variety of different ways, but one of the best ways is by word of mouth. Ask your friends and family members about their experiences when having babies. They will give you their honest opinion. That way, you can get recommendations from people you trust. Take into account your pregnancy when deciding the type of doctor your should choose. Your family practitioner may do the trick if you don’t have any previous health problems and are experiencing a normal pregnancy. However, you should consider seeing a specialist such as an OB-GYN or maternal-fetal medicine specialist if you have had problematic pregnancies before or you are high-risk. OB-GYNs are fairly common in most areas, while there are few trained maternal-fetal medicine specialists.

Contact your insurance company to find a doctor in your area. Feel free to question them about anything concerning your health or pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different. You should feel comfortable with the treatment that you will be receiving.

Read This Next

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Faces of Healthcare: What’s an Obstetrician?
How to Approach Getting Pregnant After a Miscarriage
Choosing Your OB-GYN
Pregnancy Test Evaporation Lines: What Are They?
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