Where to Give Birth

How to choose a provider for your pregnancy

Pregnancy, a miraculous and wonderful journey, is a time filled with hope, and at times, many questions. Finding the right provider will help guide you through this amazing experience. Several types of health care professionals provide prenatal care, attend births and care for women after birth. With so many options available, now is the time to explore and be informed about your options.

What types of caregivers provide maternity care? What are my options?

Professionals who provide maternity care include:

  • Family medicine doctors
  • Obstetrics and gynecology physicians (OB/GYN)
  • Certified nurse midwives (CNM)

The majority of childbearing women in the U.S. are healthy and able to choose from the full range of maternity caregivers. If you have a serious medical condition or are at high-risk for developing such a condition, you will probably want to be in the care of a doctor who has completed a residency and is board-certified in obstetrics. You will also likely plan to give birth in a hospital. Maternity caregivers know what constitutes a high-risk pregnancy and can explain when you may need specialized care.

What types of physicians provide maternity care?

Obstetricians (OB/GYNs)

Obstetricians are doctors with special training in prenatal care, labor, birth, high-risk pregnancy and surgery. Many obstetricians also provide gynecological care and other health services.

Obstetricians care for women who are healthy and women with established serious medical problems or who are at high-risk for developing such problems.

Providers who are board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology have:

  • Received a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree from an accredited school.
  • Completed at least four years of training and practice in an accredited obstetrics and gynecology residency program; and
  • Passed an examination given by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Family physicians (FPs)

Family physicians are devoted to comprehensive health care for people of all ages. As a division of primary care, family physicians provide complete health care for individuals across all ages and sexes. They treat many diseases and all areas of the body.

Roughly 25 percent of family practice physicians provide maternity care and attend births. Board-certified family physicians receive:

  • An MD or DO degree from an accredited school.
  • Complete three years of training and practice in an accredited family practice residency program, which include three to five months of training in maternity care.
  • Upon finishing a residency program, MDs and DOs must pass an examination given by the American Board of Family Practice.

Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs)

Certified Nurse Midwives are registered nurses who have:

  • Completed additional graduate training.
  • Passed a national certification examination.

Certified nurse midwives focus on low-risk normal pregnancies and work with doctors to manage any complications.

What else should I consider before making a decision?

Medical training for maternity care focuses on identifying and managing risks and complications. Doctors who provide maternity care, especially obstetric specialists, are optimal caregivers for women with both normal and high-risk pregnancies.

One of the most important things to remember as you choose your medical provider for your pregnancy and birth is how you and your provider communicate. At the foundation of your relationship, expect open and comfortable communication with decisions being made together and your questions being answered. Expect hands-on, individualized education, counseling and prenatal care. You should feel informed about all your options.