Choosing the right health care provider for pregnancy and childbirth

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You have many decisions to make now that you are expecting a baby. One of the first things you will have to decide about is what kind of health care provider you would like to care for you during your pregnancy and the birth of your baby. You may choose an obstetrician, a family practice doctor, or a certified nurse-midwife. Each of these health care providers is described below.

Each one has different training, skills, and outlooks about pregnancy and childbirth. Your choice will depend on your health and the type of birth experience you want to have. 

Think about these things as you decide what kind of health care provider you want to see during your pregnancy and the birth of your baby:

  • Where you would like to deliver your baby
  • Your beliefs and desires about natural childbirth
  • Risk factors you may have for problems during pregnancy and childbirth


An obstetrician (OB) is a doctor who has special training in women's health and pregnancy. 

Obstetricians specialize in both caring for women during pregnancy and labor and delivering their babies. 

Some OBs have advanced training in caring for high-risk pregnancies. They are called maternal-fetal medicine specialists, or perinatologists. Women may be advised to see an OB specialist if they:

  • Had an earlier complicated pregnancy
  • Are expecting twins, triplets, or more
  • Have a preexisting medical condition
  • Need to have a cesarean delivery, or had one in the past

Family Physicians

The family physician (FP) is a doctor who has studied family practice medicine. This doctor can treat many illness and conditions, and treat men and women of all ages. 

Some family doctors also take care of women who are pregnant.

  • Many will care for you during your pregnancy and when you deliver your baby.
  • Others provide prenatal care only and have an OB or midwife care for you during the birth of your baby. 

Family doctors are also trained to take care of your newborn child after delivery.

Certified Nurse-Midwifes (CNM)

Certified nurse-midwives (CNM) are trained in nursing and midwifery. Most CNMs:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • Have a master’s degree in midwifery
  • Are certified by the American College of Nurse-Midwives 

Nurse midwives care for women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. 

Women who want to have as natural a childbirth as possible may choose a CNM. Midwives view pregnancy and childbirth as normal processes, and they help women to limit or go without these things safely during childbirth:

  • Medical treatments
  • Pain medicines
  • Vacuum or forceps
  • Cesarean sections 

Most nurse midwives work with obstetricians. If complications or medical conditions develop during pregnancy, the woman will be referred to an obstetrician for a consult or to take over her care.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 8/23/2012
  • Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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