When you’re looking for the right doctor to usher you through pregnancy and deliver your baby, it’s important you choose someone in whose care you feel comfortable and secure. Learn what to look for when choosing an obstetrician.
Let’s face it—like it or not, your obstetrician/gynecologist (OB-GYN) is someone with whom you’re going to be getting up close and personal. OB-GYNS specialize in the care of women, often dealing not only with their reproductive health, but also with general primary and preventive health care. Many women seek medical care from their OB-GYNS long after their final pregnancies.
This article focuses on the “OB” part of the OB-GYN. Pregnancy and childbirth are life-changing events, and when you’re trying to find the right doctor to usher you through gestation and deliver your bundle of joy, it’s important you choose someone in whose care you feel comfortable and secure. This may take some planning and preparation on your part—including speaking with prospective obstetricians to find a doctor who has views similar to yours concerning labor and delivery. When interviewing staff at an obstetrician’s office and ultimately the doctor, consider the following criteria:
- Is the doctor affiliated with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (indicating that he or she graduated from an accredited residency program and is board-certified)? You can check at the ACOG physician lookup.
- Does the doctor accept your insurance? What are the doctor’s fees?
- Is the doctor’s office convenient to your home or office? If you become pregnant, you’ll visit the doctor more than a dozen times—maybe more if you have a high-risk pregnancy—so make sure that getting to the office isn’t a hassle.
- Do you feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor? It is important that you are comfortable talking with your physician and asking questions of him or her.
- If English isn’t your first language, does the doctor speak your dominant language?
- Does the office have weekend or evening hours that fit your schedule, or will you have to take off from work every time you need an appointment? Note how long you may have to wait to get an appointment. Additionally, how does the office handle questions that arise between appointments? Will the obstetrician return your calls the same day, or will a nurse handle routine questions?
- How does the doctor handle after-hours emergencies? Who is on call when your physician is unavailable?
- Is the doctor affiliated with a hospital whose care you are comfortable with? Doctors only have privileges at certain hospitals, so if you’ve got your heart set on delivering at a new age birthing center with the whirlpool tubs and on-site massage therapists, you need to make sure your OB-GYN can see you there. If your pregnancy is high-risk, you’ll want to deliver at a hospital with a NICU.
- Can you get recommendations from friends or family members who have an OB-GYN they like?
One Doctor or Many?
It’s important to consider whether your physician is a sole practitioner or a member of a large group practice. This will have a significant impact on the nature of your relationship with your OB-GYN.
If you choose a sole practitioner, you’ll see the same doctor at every appointment and be able to develop a close rapport with her. You’ll know whom to expect when the time comes to deliver your baby (though it’s a good idea to ask who delivers babies when the doctor is on vacation or handling another delivery).
For many patients, it’s important to have this personal relationship with a doctor, to be able to know she remembers you and is keeping a close eye on your progress. However, a sole practitioner is not likely to have the resources at her office to perform routine procedures like blood tests and ultrasound, so you’ll likely be referred to local labs or the hospital for these.
Also, a single doctor isn’t as likely to have a wide range of specialties, so if you need treatment for issues like infertility or cancer, you may have to be referred to a new practice.
In group practice, a number of doctors work together. Their offices are frequently large enough to support extra staff and technicians who can do things like draw blood and perform ultrasounds without having to send you running all over town. Since there are many doctors, there’s usually not much wait time to be able to schedule an appointment. And there are likely to be specialists on staff who can treat conditions like infertility without having to refer you elsewhere.
However, most OBs in group practice make it a policy to have pregnant patients see a different doctor at each visit until she has been seen by every OB in the practice at least once. This is because there’s no way of knowing which physician will be on call when you finally go into labor. This practice can diminish any feeling that your doctor knows you personally and is charting your progress carefully.
“When I was pregnant with my son, I chose a large group practice close to home that had a great reputation. There were five doctors in the practice who delivered babies, and since at the initial seven-week intake appointment I saw a nurse-practitioner, I was going into my third trimester before I’d met all the doctors. Unfortunately, of the five doctors, I only liked two, and there was one I really strongly disliked,” says Jennifer Skovan, 29, of Poughkeepsie, New York. “Because of my work schedule, I ended up seeing the same doctor at each appointment in my eighth and ninth months, but I was due at Thanksgiving, when he was going to be in Italy for two weeks, so I already knew that my son wouldn’t be delivered by the only doctor who even recognized me.”
Look for Similar Views
If you’re fortunate enough to have an insurance plan with many covered doctors to choose from and you still need to narrow down your selection, consider how your philosophy on care-related issues matches up with the philosophy of the doctor or practice. This is especially important if you have strong feelings on issues like natural childbirth, IVs, fetal monitoring, and pain management during labor. Some things to gauge the doctor’s attitude towards include:
- How closely she’ll try to follow your birth plan
- When and how he would induce labor
- Use of epidurals and other pain management methods
- Use of forceps/vacuum-extraction techniques
- C-section and VBAC deliveries
- Postpartum breastfeeding support
- Experience with special situations such as high-risk pregnancies or multiples
Your OB-GYN can be a great resource and your partner in caring for your reproductive health. Taking time to select a doctor you feel comfortable with can help you maximize this important relationship, and allow you to have a more pleasant pregnancy, labor, and delivery.