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What is Maternal and Fetal Medicine?

Maternal and fetal medicine is also sometimes called high-risk obstetrics or perinatology. All of these names refer to the specialty of medicine 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)
  • Recurrent miscarriages
  • 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.