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Choosing the right health care provider for pregnancy and childbirth

You have many decisions to make when you are expecting a baby. One of the first is to decide what kind of health care provider you want for your pregnancy care and the birth of your baby. You may choose an:

  • Obstetrician
  • Family practice doctor
  • Certified nurse-midwife

Each of these providers is described below. Each has different training, skills, and outlooks about pregnancy and childbirth. Your choice will depend on your health and the type of birth experience you want.

Here are some things you need to consider when you decide on the type of provider you want:

  • Risk factors you may have for problems during pregnancy and childbirth
  • Where you would like to deliver your baby
  • Your beliefs and desires about natural childbirth

Obstetricians

An obstetrician (OB) is a doctor who has special training in women's health and pregnancy.

OB doctors specialize in both caring for women during pregnancy and labor, and delivering their babies.

Some OBs have advanced training in caring for high-risk pregnancies. They are called maternal-fetal medicine specialists, or perinatologists. Women may be advised to see an OB specialist if they:

  • Had an earlier complicated pregnancy
  • Are expecting twins, triplets, or more
  • Have a pre-existing medical condition
  • Need to have a cesarean delivery (C-section), or had one in the past

Family Physicians

The family physician (FP) is a doctor who has studied family practice medicine. This doctor can treat many illnesses and conditions, and treats men and women of all ages.

Some family doctors also take care of women who are pregnant.

  • Many will care for you during your pregnancy and when you deliver your baby.
  • Others provide prenatal care only and have an OB or midwife care for you during the birth of your baby.

Family doctors are also trained to take care of your newborn after delivery.

Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM)

Certified nurse-midwives (CNM) are trained in nursing and midwifery. Most CNMs:

  • Have a bachelor's degree in nursing
  • Have a master's degree in midwifery
  • Are certified by the American College of Nurse-Midwives

Nurse midwives care for women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Women who want to have as natural a childbirth as possible may choose a CNM. Midwives view pregnancy and childbirth as normal processes, and they help women safely deliver without treatments or minimize their use. Treatments may include:

  • Pain medicines
  • Vacuum or forceps
  • C-sections

Most nurse midwives work with obstetricians. If complications or medical conditions develop during pregnancy, the woman will be referred to an obstetrician for a consult or to take over her care.

Alternative Names

Prenatal care - health care provider; Pregnancy care - health care provider

References

American College of Nurse-Midwives. Joint statement of practice relations between Obstetrician-Gynecologists and Certified Nurse-Midwives-Certified Midwives. ACOG-ACNM. www.acog.org/-/media/Statements-of-Policy/Public/sop1102.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20170130T0956082335. Accessed December 7, 2016.

Williams DE, Pridjian G. Obstetrics. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 20.

Review Date 11/11/2016

Updated by: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.