An obstetrician is a medical doctor with special training and skills in the health of mothers and babies before and during pregnancy, during birth and in the early weeks after birth. This training usually takes an extra six years on top of a basic medical degree.
Obstetricians have special skills to manage the more difficult and complex medical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. They are also trained to deal with emergency situations - for example, emergency caesareans.
In a hospital, you might see:
- an obstetric resident - a qualified doctor who is getting experience in obstetric care
- an obstetric registrar - a qualified doctor who is training to be an obstetrician
- a consultant obstetrician - a doctor who has completed specialist training.
If you're in shared care, you'll also see a GP who has done extra study in obstetrics.
During pregnancy: why you might see an obstetrician
Depending on where you plan to give birth, and also on your health and your baby's health, you might see an obstetrician at a clinic or hospital from time to time during your pregnancy.
If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you're likely to see an obstetrician more often.
If you're planning a private hospital birth - or having your baby in a public hospital using your private health fund - your private obstetrician will see you regularly at her or his consulting rooms for your pregnancy appointments.
An obstetrician might:
- send you for tests and ultrasound scans
- give you information and talk about test and scan results with you
- give you information and talk about pregnancy care and birth
- check your health and your baby's health
- talk about any lifestyle changes you need to make - for example, using medications in pregnancy and quitting smoking.
At the birth: why you might see an obstetrician
At a public hospital or birth centre, if you or your baby needs extra medical checks or care, an obstetrician will be at the birth. The obstetrician will manage any problems and do procedures or operations. You might need to transfer to a birthing suite or operating theatre for this to happen.
If you're having a private hospital birth, your obstetrician will usually check on you during labour. The obstetrician will also come for the birth, manage any problems and do any special procedures or operations if needed.
Obstetricians often work in small teams. If your obstetrician isn't available for your birth, she or he will arrange for another obstetrician to be there.
After the birth: why you might see an obstetrician
Depending on what happens at the birth at a public hospital or birth centre, an obstetrician might check on you and your baby after the birth. After this, you probably won't see an obstetrician again, unless you have a special need.
If you give birth in a private hospital, your obstetrician will visit you in hospital afterwards and check that you and your baby are OK.
You'll also see your obstetrician for a check 4-6 weeks after birth. At this appointment, your obstetrician will check your physical and emotional health, including recovery from birth, and check your baby's health. Your obstetrician will also talk with you about contraception, sexual health and urinary problems, and any concerns you have.To see a private obstetrician, you'll need a referral from your GP. If you see an obstetrician as part of your care in a public hospital or birth centre, you don't need a referral.
Going to an obstetrician
At a public hospital, you're not usually able to choose the obstetrician who sees you during your pregnancy or birth. If you want to see a female doctor, you can ask if one is available, but this might not be possible.
If you're having your baby in a public hospital using your private health fund, you can choose your private obstetrician if he or she has a special agreement with that hospital. See your GP in early pregnancy for a referral.
At a private hospital, you can choose the obstetrician you want for your pregnancy care and birth. You need to see your GP to get a referral.
Very few private obstetricians will go to a birth centre. If you want to choose your own private obstetrician you should first check whether they're available at the birth centre.
It's a good idea to ask lots of questions in your first appointment with an obstetrician so you can find one who matches your needs. For example, you could ask:
- whether the obstetrician can work with your preferences for the birth - for example, vaginal birth after a previous caesarean or water birth
- how long before you can get an appointment to see the obstetrician
- about the obstetrician's views on procedures such as induction of labour or caesarean
- how much your pregnancy care will cost - it's a good idea to check whether you can get some money back from Medicare or your private health fund
- where you have to go to see the obstetrician, and which hospital or hospitals the obstetrician practises at. You might have to travel further than you expect.
If you don't feel that the obstetrician is a good match for your needs, you can choose a different obstetrician. Your GP might also be able to guide your choice of obstetrician early in pregnancy.