An obstetrician is a medical doctor with special training and skills in the health of birthing mothers and babies before and during pregnancy, during birth and in the early weeks after birth.
Obstetricians have special skills to manage the more difficult and complex medical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. They’re also trained to deal with emergency situations – for example, emergency caesareans.
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, consulting rooms, or a 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 their consulting rooms for your pregnancy appointments.
An obstetrician might:
- send you for tests and ultrasound scans
- give you information and talk with you about test and scan results
- give you information and talk with you 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, avoiding alcohol 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, they’ll arrange for another obstetrician to be there.
And sometimes obstetricians don’t get there in time for the birth. If this happens, the midwives will deliver your baby.
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 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’re OK. You might 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.
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.
Obstetricians in different birth settings
At public hospitals, you probably won’t see an obstetrician if you have a low-risk pregnancy and everything goes smoothly at the birth. If you do need to see an obstetrician during your pregnancy or birth, you’re not usually able to choose the obstetrician. 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 they have a special agreement with that hospital. See your GP in early pregnancy for a referral.
At private hospitals, 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 birth centres. You might have a visit with an obstetrician when you first book in at the birth centre. If you want to choose your own private obstetrician, you should first check whether they’re available at the birth centre.
Obstetricians aren’t usually part of homebirth pregnancy care and birth, unless there’s a problem and you need to go to hospital. If you’re in a publicly funded homebirth program, an obstetrician might do a quick review during your pregnancy to check that everything’s OK.
Choosing an obstetrician
It’s a good idea to ask a lot 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
- what the obstetrician thinks about procedures like inductions of labour or caesareans
- 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.
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 help you find the right obstetrician.