From your first prenatal visit to your post-delivery appointments, you’ll likely meet a number of health care professionals who will monitor your health, check your baby’s progress, and provide support during and after labor. These incredible people are instrumental in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and helping you realize your delivery goals.
Before you go into labor, you can ask to meet the team who will be involved in your baby’s birth or at least ask who might be present when it happens since many hospitals and birthing centers have a rotation of medical professionals. Below we’ve listed some of the people you’ll encounter, along with a brief description of what they do, so you’ll be prepared throughout your pregnancy journey.
It’s important to get regular checkups before, during, and after your pregnancy. General practitioners are well versed in a wide range of medical specialties and may be equipped to cover maternity and labor duties, but not all family doctors are comfortable with obstetrics, especially if closer monitoring for a high-risk pregnancy is required. If you’re trying to get pregnant, find out if you’ll need to switch to an OB-GYN.
Doctors of obstetrics and gynecology are specially trained to provide medical and surgical care to pregnant women. After attending medical school, OB-GYNs complete a four-year residency program studying reproduction, pregnancy, and labor complications in all forms. They may also pursue subspecialties such as oncology and infertility. OB-GYNs perform prenatal checkups and attend both vaginal and cesarean deliveries. If you don’t already have an OB-GYN, you may want to interview several when you get pregnant. Some OB-GYNs might not have privileges to deliver at your preferred hospital or birthing center, so you’ll want to find one you feel comfortable with who does. You’ll also want to find an OB-GYN who is open to your birth plan.
A perinatologist, also called a Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialist, is an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. These doctors receive an additional two to three years of training focused on complications that can occur with mother and baby. You might see one if you are pregnant with multiples, have gestational diabetes, need genetic testing or amniocentesis, or have other complications or concerns with your health and that of your baby. Some OB-GYNs may refer all their patients to a perinatologist for the more detailed ultrasounds, such as the anatomy scan, which often occurs in the second trimester, around 20 weeks.
One of the most exciting parts of your pregnancy may be seeing your baby on an ultrasound performed by a sonographer. Sonographers typically have an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, with anatomy and physiology classes and clinical training in the interpretation of images. The highest level of sonographer is a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer who has passed an exam in one or more specialty areas (like obstetrics and gynecology). Many pregnant women visit the sonographer around 6–8 weeks, 11–13 weeks, and 18–20 weeks of their pregnancies, although your OB-GYN might perform the ultrasounds instead.
Many pregnant women will see a phlebotomist at least twice during their pregnancies. Phlebotomists draw blood for screenings, donation, and testing; they have completed a training program, which includes study in anatomy and physiology, and have obtained certification to practice. Many offices devoted to women’s health have a phlebotomist on staff, but some doctors may send their patients to a separate clinic to have their blood drawn.
You may see a nurse practitioner when you visit your general practitioner, OB-GYN, or pediatrician. Depending on the state, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) may work independently of physicians performing physical exams, diagnosing patients, and prescribing treatment. Their scope of practice ranges from minimal supportive care to highly complex specialization, but all nurse practitioners have a master of science in nursing (MSN).
Whether at the OB-GYN, the hospital, or the pediatrician, nurses are often the best advocates for mother and baby. Along with checking vitals and keeping track of patient records, these caregivers often provide incredible encouragement through labor and delivery. Depending on the degrees they’ve earned, nurses typically fall into one of three categories: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Registered Nurse (RN), and Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN).
While you’re in labor, a team of labor and delivery nurses may assist your doctor by starting IVs, looking after your vitals, helping with pain management, timing your contractions, performing cervical checks, etc. Once your baby is born, these nurses will clean, weigh, and measure your baby as well as check their vitals. They can also guide you through your first skin-to-skin experience and breastfeeding.
After you’ve delivered, you may be transferred to a recovery room where a different team of nurses will care for you and your baby. They will check on you routinely to help with any postpartum care, which may include assisting you in the restroom, checking vaginal bleeding, massaging the fundus, removing epidural and IV lines, etc. They will also work in conjunction with lactation specialists to help with breastfeeding and will be on the lookout for any signs of postpartum depression. Postpartum nurses can often provide a wealth of tips, including how to swaddle, bathe, and diaper your baby, so take advantage of their expertise.
Whether you choose to have an epidural, have a scheduled C-section, or just want to be prepared for any situation, you’ll want to be familiar with your anesthesiologist and the anesthesia options available to you. Anesthesiologists have completed four years of medical school, as well as a four-year anesthesiology residency program. Anesthesiology assistants have also completed four-year premed degrees, as well as an accredited program that includes passing a performance exam. Nurse anesthetists are registered nurses with a year of experience, the completion of an accredited two to three-year anesthesia training program, and passage of a national certification exam.
A Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) is a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree (typically in nursing) who often has at least one year of nursing experience; a CNM must complete a graduate program accredited by the American College of Nurse-Midwives and pass a national certifying exam. Nurse-midwives may consult with OB-GYNs for complications or patient concerns, but they’re trained to provide comprehensive, family-centered maternity care from the first prenatal visit through labor, delivery, and the postpartum period, as well as well-woman care. Midwives can assist you in a variety of settings, including birthing centers and your own home. Many hospitals now have midwives on staff, and you can request to have one present during labor and delivery.
Doulas are childbirth assistants specially trained to provide support during labor and delivery. A doula will help keep communication clear and open, and they’ll advocate for your wishes and rights. A doula’s goal is to help you feel relaxed, strong, and emotionally supported throughout labor. A doula can also help your partner in the delivery room by being a calm presence and guiding you both. Experienced doulas are knowledgeable about alternative pain management, soothing touch, and breathing techniques. Doulas help to make sure moms are hydrated, rested, and informed about what’s happening in the delivery room. Postpartum doulas can also provide breastfeeding direction, answer questions about baby care, and help new parents adjust to life at home with a baby.
Lactation Consultants and Counselors
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, don’t hesitate to utilize the resources available to you before and after delivery. Many hospitals and birthing centers offer breastfeeding classes you can attend before you deliver, and most now have lactation consultants and counselors on site to assist you after birth. Breastfeeding can sometimes be challenging, so it can be a lifesaver to have the support of trained professionals.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) must complete 90 hours of study in human lactation and breastfeeding, log hundreds of hours of clinical experience, and pass an international examination. They’re qualified to provide breastfeeding education and support and trained to help you troubleshoot issues that may arise, including tongue ties and mastitis. They also help you figure out newborn positioning, how to introduce solids, and even how to wean.
Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) take a 45-hour course in breastfeeding management, pass a final exam, and take continuing education credits every three years to maintain certification. CLCs provide education, counseling, and support to breastfeeding families, and they refer women who may be having complications or need a diagnosis to an IBCLC or other health care professional.
A pediatrician will typically visit the hospital within 24 hours of delivery to review your baby’s weight and measurements, assess vitals, and check for newborn anomalies and bilirubin issues. You’ll want to choose your pediatrician ahead of time and find out whether they have privileges at the hospital where you’re delivering. If they aren’t available to conduct the exams after birth, one of their colleagues on call might be there; otherwise, a hospital-affiliated pediatrician will conduct the examinations. “Well-child” visits are scheduled frequently during the first few years, and good pediatricians often become trusted advisors regarding any physical, behavioral, or mental health questions parents may have about their children.
A Team for You and Your Baby
If your head is spinning with all of the different people involved in your baby’s birth, that’s okay! Take the time you need to make sure you’re comfortable with your medical team and feel they are listening to you. There are many options for you and your baby, and the right one for you ensures you’re both healthy and happy. The more you know your team, the better prepared you’ll be to advocate for you and your baby.