What is an obstetrician?

Obstetricians specialize in caring for people during preconception, pregnancy, childbirth and the first several weeks postpartum (after childbirth). They manage and treat health conditions associated with pregnancy to ensure both you and your baby are healthy.

What does an obstetrician do?

An obstetrician provides routine prenatal care to people who are pregnant. They also diagnose and treat complications during pregnancy. Obstetricians deliver your baby and monitor you after childbirth.

Your obstetrician is responsible for:

  • Prenatal screenings, exams and lab tests.
  • Evaluating your baby’s size, growth and position in your uterus.
  • Detecting congenital anomalies or potential complications in conjunction with maternal-fetal medicine providers.
  • Using ultrasound, blood tests, urinalysis and other tools to monitor your pregnancy.
  • Treating health conditions that can affect your pregnancy or your baby.
  • Managing labor and delivery, including labor induction, emergencies and medications.
  • Providing postpartum care for up to six weeks after childbirth.

What's the difference between an obstetrician and a gynecologist?

An obstetrician provides care during pregnancy and delivers babies. A gynecologist doesn’t treat people who are pregnant or deliver babies, but specializes in the female reproductive system. It’s common for healthcare providers to combine these two areas of medicine. This is called obstetrics and gynecology or Ob/Gyn.

What's the difference between an obstetrician and a midwife?

A midwife provides the same care as an obstetrician, but they didn’t attend a medical school like an obstetrician. Midwives are professionally trained and certified to assist people who are pregnant in their prenatal care and delivery. Midwives tend to let people who are pregnant have more control over their baby’s birth. People who are pregnant may seek a midwife when they’re experiencing a low-risk pregnancy and desire aspects like fewer medical interventions or alternative pain methods. Some people will have a midwife in the delivery room with their obstetrician as an additional support person. Midwives work with obstetricians if additional care is necessary.

How does someone become an obstetrician?

First, you get a bachelor’s degree. Then, you pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to get into a medical school. It usually takes about four years to earn a medical degree.

From there, you spend about four years in a residency program. In a residency program, you gain experience diagnosing and treating people who are pregnant and participating in births.

Some obstetricians receive extra training in subspecialties like maternal-fetal medicine (MFM), which focuses on caring for people who are pregnant and have chronic health conditions or issues that make them high-risk.

After residency, you can become certified through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). This involves passing an oral and written exam. Some obstetricians are members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a professional organization for gynecologists and obstetricians.

Obstetricians must get a license to practice medicine. The requirements vary by state, but obstetricians must pass an examination to get their medical license and treat people.

What conditions do obstetricians treat?

In addition to monitoring your general wellness during pregnancy, obstetricians check for complications, diseases or conditions associated with pregnancy. They also monitor your growing baby’s health by measuring fundal height and doing ultrasounds.

Some of the most common conditions they help manage are:

Some obstetricians have additional experience managing higher-risk pregnancies. A high-risk pregnancy has a greater chance of complications. If the pregnancy is too high risk or beyond your obstetrician’s comfort level, they may refer you to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

What surgeries do obstetricians perform?

Obstetricians can perform surgeries related to pregnancy, labor and delivery. Some of the most common surgical procedures are:

When would I need to see an obstetrician?

You should see an obstetrician as soon as you know you’re pregnant. Obstetricians care for you and your baby for the duration of your pregnancy and several weeks postpartum (after you give birth).

You’ll see an obstetrician for the first time around seven or eight weeks after your last menstrual period and then monthly, biweekly and weekly as you near your due date. Most practices schedule a postpartum visit with your obstetrician about six weeks after you’ve given birth to make sure no other complications have developed.

Your prenatal care is centered around detecting potential complications at office visits or through exams and lab tests.

Some of the prenatal screenings, exams and routine lab tests you need during pregnancy are:

After birth, your obstetrician monitors your bleeding, bowel and bladder function and checks you for signs of blood clots or other postpartum conditions. They’ll allow you to go home between one and four days later if your recovery is going well.

You’ll see your obstetrician at two or six weeks for a postpartum visit depending on medical issues associated with your pregnancy. During this visit, your healthcare provider will:

  • Perform a pelvic exam and breast exam (if necessary).
  • Make sure your uterus has returned to its pre-pregnancy size.
  • Discuss your bleeding and other symptoms you’ve had during recovery.
  • Talk to you about postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.
  • Determine if you can resume normal activities.
  • Discuss birth control options and future pregnancies.

How do I choose an obstetrician?

Choosing an obstetrician you feel comfortable with can make your pregnancy and birthing experience more enjoyable. If possible, find an obstetrician or Ob/Gyn before getting pregnant. Ask your friends and family who they recommend or go online to read reviews. Your primary care physician or other healthcare providers can also recommend obstetricians.

Be sure to think about what is important to you during pregnancy and childbirth. Making a checklist may help. Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

  • Do I feel comfortable with this healthcare provider? Does my partner?
  • Does this healthcare provider explain things clearly and answer my questions?
  • What are this healthcare provider’s views on vaginal delivery, unmedicated birth or other things that are important to me?
  • Who covers my care if my preferred provider isn’t available?

Some obstetricians or Ob/Gyns are in a group practice. Group practices often want you to see as many healthcare providers as possible for your prenatal care. This is because the obstetrician who is on-call the day you go into labor will deliver your baby. If you have a healthcare provider preference for prenatal visits, some practices can accommodate you. In the case of a scheduled C-section, you may have a greater chance of selecting your obstetrician.

It’s natural to prefer one healthcare provider over another. Remember that all obstetricians are trained and experienced in pregnancy and childbirth and want what’s best for your pregnancy.

Do obstetricians do C-sections?

Yes, your obstetrician received special surgical training to perform C-sections. They can handle any surgical emergencies during delivery.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An obstetrician specializes in caring for people who are pregnant and delivering babies. They help treat conditions during pregnancy that could affect your or your baby’s health. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about your pregnancy, your baby and what you can expect during labor and delivery. They’re there to support you and give you and your baby the best care possible. You and your obstetrician both have the shared goal of a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/28/2022.

References

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG redesigns postpartum care. (https://www.acog.org/news/news-releases/2018/04/acog-redesigns-postpartum-care) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • American College of Surgeons. Obstetrics and Gynecology. (https://www.facs.org/education/resources/residency-search/specialties/obgyn) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • American Medical Association. Obstetrics and Gynecology. (https://freida.ama-assn.org/specialty/obstetrics-and-gynecology) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • American Pregnancy Association. Choosing an Obstetrician. (https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/planning/choosing-an-obstetrician/) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • March of Dimes. Your first prenatal care checkup. (https://www.marchofdimes.org/your-first-prenatal-care-checkup.aspx) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • Midwives Alliance North America. About Midwives. (https://mana.org/about-midwives) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • Pregnancy Birth & Baby. What does an obstetrician do? (https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/the-role-of-your-obstetrician) & What do Midwives do? (https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/the-role-of-your-midwife) Accessed 1/28/2022.
  • The American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Specialty (OB GYN) Certification Overview. (https://www.abog.org/specialty-certification/requirements) Accessed 1/28/2022.

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