Obstetrics/gynecology is the medical field that manages a broad range of women’s health needs during pregnancy, childbirth, and the recuperative period following delivery.
The field of gynecology focuses on the care of women’s reproductive systems, including the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Gynecological care also includes regular checkups on a woman’s reproductive health.
Obstetrical and gynecological care is offered by a range of health care providers. An obstetrician receives specialized training in the area of the female reproductive system and surgical care. Some physicians practice only obstetrics whereas other physicians may choose to practice only gynecology.
Many obstetricians/gynecologists, also known as OB/GYNs, choose to practice both specialties and offer a variety of care. Many family medicine providers offer gynecologic care. Besides physicians, other types of health care providers are involved in women’s reproductive health, including nurse practitioners, certified midwives and certified nurse-midwives, physician assistants, clinical nurse specialists, and others.
Obstetrical medical care covers a range of women’s reproductive health needs, including:
- Preconception care. A woman considering pregnancy should visit a health care provider specializing in pregnancy even before she becomes pregnant. During a preconception checkup, the health care provider will explain to the woman how a healthy diet, lifestyle and environmental risk factors, and medications affect growth and development of a fetus during the early weeks of pregnancy. During a preconception evaluation, the health care provider likely would recommend certain nutritional supplements, especially folic acid (a B vitamin). Women who avoid certain risks before getting pregnant are more likely to have healthy infants.
- Prenatal care or pregnancy care. Prenatal care is the care a woman receives during pregnancy, which typically lasts about 40 weeks or just more than 9 full months. During pregnancy, obstetrical care includes guidance on nutrition, blood pressure monitoring, exercise, and the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. Obstetricians also offer advice on what to expect during the birth process and on basic skills for caring for an infant.
- Labor & Delivery. Health care providers specializing in obstetrics will help women determine when labor begins and when labor should be induced. These health care providers also can provide pain relief.
- Postpartum care. A new mother experiences many physical and emotional changes. Postpartum care encompasses the care for a new mother immediately after childbirth and for the following 6 weeks. In the hospital, obstetrical services would manage any complications that occur, such as infection, hemorrhage, high blood pressure, blood clot formation, opening of incisions, or breast problems. The woman could be referred for help with postpartum depression or other problems.
Obstetrical care often is provided by an OB/GYN or a trained health care provider. Some pregnant women seek out the services of a certified nurse-midwife or a certified midwife for care and support during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the postpartum period.
In addition, it is quite common for the father-to-be or a close friend or family member to serve as a labor coach to help and encourage the pregnant woman during labor and delivery. In some cases, a woman may choose to hire a trained and certified birth doula to serve as a knowledgeable and experienced labor coach while helping to keep her comfortable during labor and delivery.
Gynecologic care includes:
- Well-woman care. Preventive obstetrical health care services and guidance for females is recommended beginning between the ages of 13 and 15 years old, including screening, evaluation and counseling, and immunization against certain diseases. Well-woman visits should occur each year.
- Regular gynecological exams and Pap tests. A girl’s first gynecological exam includes a physical exam and an external genital exam. A pelvic exam may be needed if the girl is experiencing abnormal bleeding or pain. The health care provider will also advise her about immunizations needed to protect against disease caused by bacteria and viruses. Beginning at age 21, a female’s gynecological exams also include a Pap test to check for abnormal changes in the cervix that could potentially lead to cancer. The frequency of Pap tests ranges from every year to every 5 years, depending on a woman’s health history,
There are subspecialists in the field of ob-gyn that may be consulted for particular health needs. For example:
- Reproductive endocrinologists deal with fertility issues.
- Maternal-fetal medicine specialists deal with high-risk pregnancies.
- Gynecological oncology focuses on cancers of women’s reproductive organs.
- The field of urogynecology is for the treatment of women with pelvic floor disorders, such as urinary or fecal incontinence, or prolapse (bulging or falling) of the vagina, uterus, or bladder.
Reference: National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development