Maternal and fetal medicine (also called perinatology) is the specialty devoted to caring for pregnant women and their unborn babies during a pregnancy where there are complications. The goal of this specialty is to reduce stress for the mother and to increase the chances of safely delivering a healthy baby.
In most cases, pregnancy takes place without any problems. There are a few cases, however, where health problems require extra monitoring, testing, and more training than a regular ob/gyn might have. These specialized ob/gyns are perinatologists.
There are many different issues that might cause a patient to be referred to a maternal and fetal medicine specialist. Some of the issues include:
Advanced maternal age (over 35)
Premature rupture of membranes, or “water breaking” too early
Congenital disorders that may impact birth
Multiples (twins, triplets, or higher)
Health issues in the mother, including chronic illness (diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, etc.) and infectious disease (hepatitis, HIV)
Services offered by maternal and fetal medicine specialists vary depending on the nature of the concern, but they may include prenatal testing, ultrasound, or diagnostic screening. It is common for a patient to see a perinatologist several times during their pregnancy but for their own obstetrician to deliver the baby. Perinatologists typically do not deliver babies, although they are available for consult if needed.
What is General Obstetrics & Gynecology?
General obstetrician/gynecologists, or general OB/GYNs, are providers of routine care for women’s reproductive health. They offer regular checkups and preventative care to detect illnesses early and keep women healthy. A general OB/GYN cares for a variety of health issues, including:
Sexually transmitted diseases
Annual breast exams
After the age of 18, it is important to see a general OB/GYN regularly for preventative care as well as any needed pregnancy care. When necessary, general OB/GYNs may refer their patients to related specialists such as a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist or Reproductive Endocrinologist. However, women without complicated health issues may continue to see their general OB/GYN for care throughout their reproductive life.