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What kind of healthcare providers care for women during pregnancy?

Melissa Taylor
Emergency Room Nursing

Pregnant women may be cared for by an Obstetrician, a licensed physician educated to care for women during pregnancy, labor, delivery and post-delivery [postpartum]. These physicians are also trained to perform cesarean [surgical] delivery. Pregnant women may also be cared for by a licensed Family Practice Physician, or Certified Nurse Midwife, and staff registered nurses. A Family Practice Physician may care for the woman during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum, and also provide pediatric care for the infant. The Certified Nurse Midwife is a registered nurse with advanced education, certification and licensure to care for a woman during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum. Hospital staff registered nurses are educated, trained, and often certified, in the specialties of obstetrical and neonatal [newborn] nursing. As part of the health team, these nurses are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of quality in the care of pregnant women. The obstetrical nurse has scientific knowledge of normal and high risk pregnancy and partners with the woman, and the physician or nurse midwife to promote the healthiest outcome possible. The nurse serves as clinician, educator and advocate to meet the physical, spiritual and psychological needs of pregnant women and their families.

The pregnant woman may also receive care in the form of education from a Certified Childbirth Educator, to prepare her for the birthing experience. In the case where a pregnant woman needs surgery, she may also be cared for by Surgical Techs and Anesthesiologists [physicians specializing in anesthesia] or CRNA [certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists].

Other specialists may care for the pregnant woman based on her individual health needs. For example, a dietician may assist the pregnant woman with her dietary choices if she is also diabetic. Another example may be a Cardiologist [physician specializing in finding, treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels] may provide care for the pregnant woman if she has a heart or blood vessel disorder.

Pregnant women are cared for by a team of health care providers. The focus of the team is the well-being of the woman, the fetus and the developing family. The woman’s medical plan of care will be overseen by an obstetrician, family practice physician or a certified midwife.

  • An Obstetrician or OB is a medical doctor with special training in pregnancy and childbirth. An obstetrician also has training in surgical procedures and therefore is able to perform a cesarean birth, if needed. Some Obstetricians also receive additional education and training as maternal-fetal specialists or perinatologists. Maternal-fetal specialists or perinatologists specialize in the care of women experiencing high risk pregnancies.
  • A Family Practice physician is a doctor who cares for all members of the family, including the pregnant woman, the infant and the new mother. Family practice physicians usually do not perform cesarean births or care for high-risk pregnancies
  • A certified nurse midwife is a RN with additional education in the care of pregnant women and newborns. They specialist in the care of low-risk pregnancies and often provide care in birthing centers or the home. A CNM has a relationship with an obstetrician in case a complication develops during the pregnancy or birth process.

Nurses are also care providers during a woman’s pregnancy. During prenatal visits a nurse will perform an assessment of the woman’s vital signs, weight, and fetal heart rate, obtain blood and urine samples and document any changes in health, well-being or questions. Nurses provide teaching about the pregnancy and the changes the woman is experiencing in her body. Prenatal testing nurses might be involved if any diagnostic procedures are performed. A nurse may also be the educator in any childbirth or parenting=preparation classes the woman might take during her pregnancy. The women will also be cared for by a nurse during the labor and birth experience and the post-partum experience. All RN have completes an approved educational program and are licenses by the state in which they are practicing. Some nurses have additional education at the graduate level or specialist certification in a specific area of practice.

Many pregnant women have an ultrasound or sonogram, thus they will meet the ultrasound technician. And some women have the need for a social worker or case manager to address financial, social or other concerns during the pregnancy.

Health care providers that care for women during pregnancy include:

Obstetricians (OB) are medical doctors who specialize in the care of pregnant women and in delivering babies. OBs also have special training in surgery so they are also able to do a cesarean delivery. Women who have health problems or are at risk for pregnancy complications should see an obstetrician. Women with the highest risk pregnancies might need special care from a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

Family practice doctors are medical doctors who provide care for the whole family through all stages of life. This includes care during pregnancy and delivery, and following birth. Most family practice doctors cannot perform cesarean deliveries.

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and certified professional midwife (CPM) are trained to provide pregnancy and postpartum care. Midwives can be a good option for healthy women at low risk for problems during pregnancy, labor, or delivery. A CNM is educated in both nursing and midwifery. Most CNMs practice in hospitals and birth centers. A CPM is required to have experience delivering babies in home settings because most CPMs practice in homes and birthing centers. All midwives should have a back-up plan with an obstetrician in case of a problem or emergency.

Ask your primary care doctor, friends, and family members for provider recommendations. When making your choice, think about:

ReputationPersonality and bedside mannerThe provider's gender and ageOffice location and hoursWhether you always will be seen by the same provider during office checkups and deliveryWho covers for the provider when she or he is not availableWhere you want to deliverHow the provider handles phone consultations and after-hour calls.

This answer is based on source information from  the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.