Choosing a Birth Practitioner

Among the many issues facing a pregnant woman and her partner is deciding who will assist in delivering their baby. To find the practitioner who can give you the best medical care and emotional support, interview several and then decide who you are most comfortable with.

Here’s a look at your options when it comes to choosing a practitioner and birthing facility.


Training – An obstetrician/gynecologist is a medical doctor who has four years of additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecological problems and in the obstetrical care of pregnant women.

Prenatal care – Ob/Gyns watch for deviations from the norm. In the office, these physicians provide routine prenatal care.

During labor – Ob/Gyns tend to rely on the hospital nursing staff. The obstetrician checks the patient upon admission to the hospital and directs the nursing staff on medical care issues. The nurses care for the patient, with the physician returning at periodic intervals. When the woman is ready to deliver, the doctor assists the patient and performs the relevant medical procedures.

Questions to ask when interviewing an obstetrician.

Certified Nurse-Midwives

Training – Certified nurse-midwives are registered nurses with additional training in midwifery. To become certified, they must pass an examination administered by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Prenatal care – While nurse-midwives are trained to handle all aspects of prenatal, labor, delivery and postpartum care, they consult with an obstetrician if complications arise. If necessary, they refer patients to physicians.

During labor – Nurse-midwives help with breathing and offer pain-relief procedures, such as massage, relaxation procedures and position changes. While nurse-midwives may administer the same pain medications that obstetricians suggest, their patients tend to require less medication because these other options help reduce discomfort. If a Cesarean-section is needed, an obstetrician is brought in to perform the surgery.

Questions to ask when interviewing an a midwife. 

Other Options

Other care providers who can help you deliver your baby include:

Family physician – A medical doctor who has completed a residency in family practice and specializes in caring for family members of all ages. Some also care for pregnant women.

Perinatologist – An obstetrician/gynecologist who has completed a fellowship program (beyond the ob/gyn residency) and specializes in high-risk pregnancy care.

Neonatologist – A pediatrician who has completed a fellowship in newborn management and specializes in the care of high-risk newborns.

Licensed midwife – A midwife who is not a nurse may still be licensed to practice midwifery in some states.

Doula – This term means one who “mothers the mother” before, during and after childbirth. A doula usually has a background in childbirth education.

Monitrice – A professional labor coach who may teach childbirth-preparation classes. Commonly, the terms “monitrice” and “doula” are interchangeable.

Read more about nurse-midwives and doulas.

Selecting your care provider(s) isn't the only big choice you'll have to make here for more information about choosing the birthing facility where you will deliver your baby.