Over the course of a pregnancy, there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter a number of healthcare providers. You may expect to work with physicians and nurses, but there are also midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and educators who may be able to offer valuable support throughout your pregnancy and birth — and even after. Here’s a quick overview of the different types of pregnancy providers you may work with, and what you can expect from each of them.
Obstetrics and gynecology are two different (but related) fields of medicine that focus on female reproductive health. Obstetrics involves the care of women and their children during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period, while gynecology deals specifically with diseases and disorders of the female reproductive system. OB/GYN is an abbreviation for obstetrician and gynecologist, and is also used to refer to physicians who specialize in these fields. Before a physician is considered a board-certified OB/GYN, they have graduated from medical school, completed at least four years of residency training, and passed rigorous written and oral exams.
It’s common for physicians to specialize in both areas, but some focus on only one. OB/GYNs can provide a wide range of services ranging from preventive care (pap smears, STI testing, pelvic exams, ultrasounds, and blood work) to some infertility treatment, pregnancy care, and delivering babies. They can also perform some surgical procedures like cesarean sections, hysterectomies, and fibroid or cyst removal.
Midwives are trained healthcare professionals who help with labor, delivery, and postnatal care. There are different levels of training: certified nurse-midwives (CNMs), certified midwives (CMs), and certified professional midwives (CPMs). CNMs are registered nurses who go through specialized training and pass a national exam. CMs hold bachelor's degrees in health fields, complete a training program, and pass a national exam, but are not registered nurses. Finally, CPMs have passed a national exam and have training, but are not nurses and do not need to hold advanced degrees.
Midwives can perform a number of services throughout pregnancy (and even before). These range from family planning, prenatal exams, support with birth plans, labor and delivery support. Midwives often work alongside physicians to help their patients develop care plans.
Doulas are trained professionals who can provide both physical and emotional support during pregnancy, labor, and in the postnatal period. Although doulas are not licensed, typically they will choose to go through a certification training that will cover evidence-based information about providing support to expectant parents. The educational portion of training typically takes a few days or weeks to complete, but it can take several months to meet the education requirements necessary to start working with clients — and even more time after that to meet the experience requirements necessary to become certified. While they don’t provide medical assistance, they can offer massage to ease labor pain, advice about comfortable positions for birth, and help facilitate communication between expectant parents and the medical team when needed.
Lactation consultant / educator
Lactation consultants or educators work with expectant parents to help them understand the breastfeeding process. They provide information about a number of issues related to feeding infants, infant care guidance, how to use pumping devices, and support women who are having difficulty breastfeeding by teaching specific strategies that may help them to be successful. There are three certifications that are structured very similarly. Lactation consultants are required to have an industry certification, such as the certification provided by the International Board of Lactation Consultants Examiners (IBLCE). IBLCE is the highest standard of breastfeeding credential. It’s not uncommon for some medical professionals like registered nurses, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, or dietitians to pursue additional training to be IBCLC certified. A certified lactation specialist or educator goes through training consisting of 45 hours of courses followed by an examination. Their scope of care includes establishing good milk supply, helping expectant parents and babies with positioning and latch, giving instructions on pumping and hand expression of milk, and other routine breastfeeding management. Certified lactation specialists or educators will refer to IBCLC or consultants when breastfeeding challenges fall outside of their scope of practice.
Still have questions about different pregnancy providers? If you’re a Carrot member, schedule time to talk with one of our Carrot Experts today. You can also learn more about Carrot Pregnancy and how it can help your employees.