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Obstetrics deals with women and their pregnancies, from prenatal through birth and after delivery. This medical specialty often pairs with gynecology, which handles issues that affect all aspects of women's health.

What an obstetrician does

A doctor who specializes in obstetrics works with pregnancy and normally trains in gynecology so that he or she can work with all types of women's reproductive health issues, dubbed OB/GYN. Doctors in this field spend about 12 years getting their education and completing their state licensure commitments.

OB/GYN doctors can specialize in gynecologic oncology or critical care medicine. Those who choose oncology work with reproductive cancers and provide support to pregnant mothers with cancer. Those who choose critical care treat women with multiple organ dysfunctions. Doctors can also specialize in infertility and reproductive endocrinology or maternal and fetal medicine. Subspecialties require an additional one to three years of training.

OB/GYN doctors often perform surgery in addition to diagnostics and drug treatment. For example, they may perform a Cesarean section when necessary or a dilation and curettage for treatment or diagnostics.

Conditions an OB/GYN treats

First and foremost, obstetricians work with pregnancy. They provide all necessary prenatal care, deliver children and provide all postnatal care. OB/GYNs may also work with the new baby for the first 24 hours to ensure that he or she is healthy and treat any issues that might arise after birth.

For most women, their pregnancy, labor and delivery progress with few or no health concerns. Some women have complications during this time, which may include the following:

  • Pre-eclampsia. This condition occurs during pregnancy when the mother experiences sudden high blood pressure, and swelling in her hands, feet, and face. A mother with this condition needs to follow a more careful monitoring procedure and will likely be prescribed bed rest during her pregnancy. If the condition worsens, it could develop into a more severe form of this condition known as eclampsia.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. This condition results when the embryo implants itself in the Fallopian tube. Internal bleeding is possible during this condition.
  • Induction of labor. For women with labor that is not progressing as it should or if there are signs that require fetal distress, the physician will induce the labor.
  • Caesarean section. This procedure is performed for complications and an immediate delivery. The OB/GYN makes one or more incisions in the mother's abdomen and uterus and lifts out the infant.
  • Fetal Distress. Complications may occur when the fetus, umbilical cord or placenta aren't in the correct position. Sometimes the fetus is simply too large to travel through the birth canal or the umbilical cords becomes tangled or compressed.

Gynecologists work with the various female reproductive health issues, including birth control, ovarian cysts or endometriosis. They perform procedures or administer medications to help treat conditions such as these. Gynecologist also work alongside other specialists to help treat more complex disorders that span different specialties, such as working alongside an endocrinologist to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Choosing the right OB/GYN

When choosing an OB/GYN doctor, you need one who can best help the patient. For example, choosing a specialist who focuses on maternal and fetal health is the best choice for a mother looking to get the right prenatal care and deliver her baby. This doctor should also work to maintain the mother's health following delivery.

A woman battling cancer involving her reproductive organs needs a gynecologic oncologist who can develop a treatment plan for her cancer and provide supportive care for her other reproductive organs. Whereas a general oncologist can certainly be effective, a doctor who specializes in this specific organ system can be very helpful because he or she understands the structure and physiology better.

If you know that you'll need the services of an OB/GYN, contact your health insurance company to make sure that your policy covers this care. 

Read through the listing of OB/GYNs in the provider directory available from your health insurance provider. You'll want to feel especially comfortable with your obstetrician and/or gynecologist, so carefully research them. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see reviews and rankings from members who have been under their care.


I live in washington, pa. Im six weeks pregnant with twins. I need a doctor that can be caring and that is experienced delivering twins.

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