There are a lot of crucial decisions to be made when you're an expectant parent, but one of the very first is what kinds of medical professionals you're going to involve in the process. As part of your team you'll need either an obstetrician or a midwife, and many pregnancies can benefit from input from both. Read on explore the key differences between them, and learn how to make an informed choice tailored to your specific needs.
What does an obstetrician do?
Obstetricians are medical doctors specializing in the field of obstetrics, which refers to all medical care involved in pregnancy and childbirth ( often including the pre-pregnancy 'trying to conceive' stage). They're not gynaecologists by default, but many choose to dual specialise—which is why a lot of obstetricians are described as working in OB/GYN. Like all doctors, obstetricians have completed medical school and taken the doctor's oath.
With their extensive medical training, obstetricians manage both routine and high-risk pregnancies with a particular focus on medical complications. They're the people qualified to perform several pregnancy-related surgical procedures, most notably the caesarean section, and they're often based in hospital settings. Their expertise lies in managing complex medical conditions and providing interventions when necessary—all the way from conception to post-partum. If you have pre-existing medical conditions or face specific pregnancy risks, an obstetrician's specialized care may provide peace of mind and ensure a safe delivery. If for any reason you may give birth via caesarean, it's an obstetrician you'll need to discuss your options with in advance.
What does a midwife do?
Midwives are healthcare professionals providing comprehensive care to women throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. They're qualified, trained medical professionals, but they're not doctors: they've trained specifically to become midwives, and may or may not otherwise be fully qualified nurses. They work mostly with lower-risk pregnancies, and should things become more complex they will either hand over your care to an obstetrician or work with you alongside an obstetrician as part of a team.
Midwives generally take a holistic approach to natal care. They'll look at the emotional and mental well-being of expectant parents alongside their physical concerns and are often the best people to talk to about things like how to deal with morning sickness or learning how to breastfeed.
Which choice is right for your family?
In low-risk pregnancies, the choice between an obstetrician and a midwife may be little more than a preference. When things are a little more complicated, however, there are likely to be strong medical reasons to choose an obstetrician's involvement. The majority of pregnancies fall somewhere in the middle, and many expectant parents find the most helpful route is to see an obstetrician several times during the pregnancy while also building a working relationship with a midwife you see more frequently.
Obstetricians and midwives both play essential roles in maternity care, each offering distinct expertise and support. Understanding the differences between them empowers expectant parents to make a well-informed decision based on their own circumstances, leading to a safe and positive childbirth experience. Whether you opt for an obstetrician's medical expertise or a midwife's holistic approach, the goal remains the same: a healthy and joyful birth journey for you and your baby.