Obstetrics doctors treat pregnant women and are experts on pregnancy, labor and delivery. As obstetrics physicians are both obstetricians and gynecologists, they may have up to 12 years of education and training. Gynecologists specialize in the woman’s reproductive system and this is why the specialities of gynecology and obstetrics are so closely related. Doctors in obstetrics and gynecology are called OB/GYNs for short. Obstetrics doctors monitor a woman’s pregnancy through regular check-ups and tests and also assist with delivery.
At the beginning of pregnancy, an obstetrics doctor will confirm the pregnancy and usually prescribe prenatal vitamins. Pregnant women need higher amounts of some vitamins and minerals for the growing fetus, including folate. Folate taken during pregnancy is thought to lower the risk of birth defects such as the spinal disease spina bifida. An obstetrics physician orders and analyzes many tests such as blood tests and screenings for many different diseases. Obstetrics doctors also monitor a woman’s weight gain throughout pregnancy.
An obstetrics doctor does ultrasound tests on pregnant women by applying a wand across a woman’s stomach. The sex of the baby can be revealed through this method as the wand transmits images of the growing fetus onto a monitor. Ultrasound exams give the doctor a better idea of when the due date will be and also allow obstetrics doctors to check for abnormalities in the fetus and problems in prenatal functioning. For example, one thing an obstetrics physician looks for in the ultrasound is whether there is an adequate blow flow through the umbilical cord. Another concern is the placement of the placenta — placenta previa is a condition in which the birth canal can be blocked.
Early on in a pregnancy, placenta previa, which means the placenta is positioned too low in the uterus, isn’t a concern but the obstetrics doctor will keep monitoring it throughout the pregnancy and on to labor. Obstetrics doctors assist women through labor and may prescribe pain medication. The obstetrics physician is always prepared to deal with any type of birth position.
Head first, or oblique, deliveries are the usual way babies are born, but a baby could come out of the birth canal sideways or more commonly, breech, which means that he or she is born feet or buttocks first. An obstetrics doctor may need to assist the birth with a surgical tool such as forceps or a ventouse. Forceps are pincers for grasping and the ventouse is a suction cup device that fits on the baby’s head to help guide him or her out of the birth canal when labor alone is not enough. Obstetrics doctors usually do follow-up exams on patients and newborns.