What is an Obstetrician?

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The ABCs of OBs

Your obstetrician will get up-close and personal with your body in a way no one else ever has before, so it's only fair that you should know some things about him too. An OB is a doctor who specializes in childbirth. Your OB may practice gynecology too or focus just on pregnancy. Either way, his training should have prepared him to handle everything that happens to your body during the nine-month-long roller coaster ride of pregnancy. You're going to have questions, and your OB should have all the answers.

What Obstetricians Do

Quite simply, obstetricians are physicians who handle all things related to pregnancy and childbirth. An OB monitors a woman's health during pregnancy and delivers her baby. Once you deliver your baby, a pediatrician should tend to his care, but your OB will continue to treat and monitor your health postpartum.

When you get pregnant, your OB schedules frequent appointments with you. He'll do pelvic exams, check your baby's development, run blood tests, and talk to you about any precautions you need to take. Your OB will, hopefully, be the person to deliver your baby when the time comes, although the timing may not make that possible.

Your OB should also schedule a postpartum visit with you. He'll do another physical exam to see how you're recovering from labor, answer any questions you have, and talk to you about things like breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

How Do OBs and Gynecologists Differ?

Many obstetricians are also gynecologists. A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive health. The two fields, obviously, are closely linked, and doctors who want to specialize in one field study and train in both. That's why your gynecologist may also be an obstetrician. An OB/GYN can manage all parts of a woman's reproductive care throughout her life, including any pregnancies that she has.

Some doctors practice only as obstetricians or gynecologists, despite having the training to do both. Many women prefer to see an OB/GYN because he can provide continuity of care and treat her throughout her life. Pregnancy can be scary and overwhelming, and it may be comforting to have your care managed by a doctor who you already know and trust.

How Should I Choose an OB?

You may already have a great gynecologist who also practices obstetrics. If so, you're all set. If that's not the case, start identifying candidates as soon as you start thinking about getting pregnant. Check with your insurance to get a list of local OBs within your network. Then ask your general doctor and gynecologist to recommend a few OBs, ask for recommendations from friends and family, and read online reviews. Compare these lists to find OBs who are both covered by your insurance and highly recommended, and call their offices to schedule initial appointments.

It's normal to meet with a few OBs before deciding which one to use for your pregnancy. Assess factors such as the ease of scheduling, the number of years the doctor has practiced, and his experience in handling high-risk pregnancies, in case you have any complications. If the doctor practices in a group, find out if one of the other doctors will deliver your baby if your OB can't. Ask whether you can reach the doctor with questions and concerns outside of office hours. If you have a preference as to where you'd like to deliver, talk about that too because doctors are typically affiliated with certain hospitals.

Do a gut check about the doctor's personality and bedside manner, too. Pregnancy is a vulnerable and emotional experience, and by the end of your term, you'll have to see your doctor for weekly appointments. Choose someone who treats you with respect and seems to genuinely care about his patients. You'll probably make at least one middle-of-the-night phone call to your OB, so make sure it's someone who's happy to hear from you.