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Second Trimester

Q&A: Types Of Prenatal Caregivers?

What different types of medical professionals could care for me during pregnancy and delivery? Are there options besides an OB?

When it comes to prenatal care and delivery, there are essentially four different types of medical professionals who can provide appropriate care. Here's a rundown of the basic education and specialties of each to help you make the best decision for yourself.

Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB-GYN)
OB-GYNs attend medical school plus four additional years of specialized training in obstetrics (the study of pregnancy care and childbirth) and gynecology (the study of diseases and care of the female reproductive system). After these years of schooling, they gain certification through exams to show that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to care for and perform surgery on women. An OB-GYN might set up shop in a hospital, groups practice or private practice, and usually delivers babies in a hospital.

Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist
These docs handle mostly high-risk pregnancies. They've complete four years of OB-GYN training plus two to three years of high-risk obstetric training and certification. If you find yourself at risk for pregnancy complications, you might be referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. In this case, your baby will almost certainly be delivered in a hospital, ensuring the availability of extra care in case of a medical emergency.

Family Physician
Yep, your "regular" family doc can handle your pregnancy and delivery. After graduating med school, family physicians go through three years of advanced training in family medicine, including obstetrics, and must pass a certification exam. This means they are good to go in terms of caring for normal, low-risk pregnancies and deliveries. A family physician usually delivers babies in a hospital.

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
CNMs go through an accredited nursing program to become certified nurses, study for a graduate degree in midwifery, and go through special training to learn to care for moms and babies throughout pregnancy, delivery, and the first weeks of baby's life. They maintain an active nursing license and are certified by passing a national exam. Certified nurse-midwives work with a qualified doctor for backup support, and consult or refer to a doc if medical problems arise. CNMs may deliver in a hospital or, in states where laws permit them to attend to out-of-hospital birth, in a freestanding birth center or personal residence.

— Erin Walters

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. Your pregnancy and birth. 4th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2005.

By Erin Walters