Pregnancy is an exciting, enriching, and, at times, overwhelming journey. Yes, you might be thrilled and overjoyed, but all the physical and emotional changes can send you on a roller coaster. On top of that, you have to make some key decisions to take care of your health and your baby’s well-being. One of those decisions is choosing a healthcare provider during pregnancy.
You want someone who is going to support you through this period of many (many) prenatal visits, stick as close to your birth plan as possible, and care for you postpartum. You’re not alone in having to make this decision. Here, we’re sharing what to consider when choosing a healthcare provider during pregnancy. But, remember, if along the way your health or needs change, decisions do not have to be final. Here’s everything to know and to ask when choosing a pregnancy healthcare provider.
Researching Healthcare Providers
Communication, compatibility, and trust in your healthcare provider is essential, whether you are seeking professional attention because you recently got your positive pregnancy test or you want to explore preconception care.
There are different options for prenatal care and delivery, such as family practice doctors, certified midwives, OB-GYN doctors, and maternal-fetal medicine specialists. These professionals help you follow your pregnancy through the trimesters to prevent possible complications. You’ll also want to ensure your provider works with the location where you’d like to give birth.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a pregnancy healthcare provider.
Look Into the Different Types of Providers
Obstetricians and Gynecologists
OB-GYNs have specialized training in reproductive medicine, so they can diagnose and treat any problems in pregnancy and childbirth. You can be monitored by an OB-GYN if you want a vaginal delivery, but they are also prepared to perform surgery and treat high-risk pregnancies.
If your priority is to have a vaginal birth with minimal medical and surgical intervention, a midwife may be a good option for you. You can receive a variety of services including fetal growth monitoring, education about your lifestyle habits, and help with breastfeeding.
Family Practice Physicians
Because they are trained to work with patients of all ages, you can have continuity of care for your entire family, including prenatal, delivery, postpartum, and pediatric health care.
Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialists
If you need special care because you or your baby have a medical condition, you may be referred to a perinatologist. These obstetricians specializing in high-risk pregnancies can provide advanced testing, imaging, and treatment.
While not healthcare providers, these trained professionals provide you with guidance on birthing options, pain management, breastfeeding, and emotional and physical support during all stages. If you’re looking for an extra support person to advocate for you during childbirth, a doula can be a good addition to your pregnancy and postpartum care team.
Get Recommendations From Trusted Sources
Your friends and family can help you make a decision about your healthcare provider from a more personal perspective. Talk to them, maybe their experiences could give you a clearer understanding of your priorities to find the best fit. Additionally, poll your local community groups to get recommendations for providers.
However, everyone’s needs and preferences are different. For example, some women may prefer an unmedicated approach where others are counting on that epidural for pain management. Take the opinions of others into consideration but always remember to do what’s best for you.
Determine Your Priorities
You deserve individualized prenatal attention. Think about your priorities and the experience you want to have and, from there, select the professional who will accompany you along the way. To know what you want, you need to start asking yourself some questions to help you make better decisions. You don’t need to answer them all at once, but listing them might allow you to organize your ideas.
Check Services Offered During and After Pregnancy
Deciding whether or not to work with a provider may come down to the services they offer, like in-house ultrasounds, prenatal testing, childbirth classes, postpartum care, and breastfeeding support. While you shouldn’t necessarily turn away a provider that doesn’t offer these services, it will be good to know if you will need to look elsewhere. An additional bonus will be if the provider has in-house specialists or provides access to specialized care.
Proximity to Your Location
The number of providers to choose from will vary depending on where you live. You’ll want to take into account how far/how long your drive will be too and from appointments and your birthing location.
Office Hours and Appointment Scheduling
Determine what times of day appointments will work best for you. If you work a full-time job and have regularly scheduled meetings at certain times of day, it may be best to work with a provider who can do visits earlier in the morning or in the afternoon. You will also want to ask about their policies on after-hour visits or emergency care options should you ever need assistance outside of a normal work day.
Research Birthing Locations
Depending on where you live, the location where you plan to give birth is another important choice. Depending on your medical condition and the type of delivery you want, you may opt between hospitals, birthing centers, and home births.
Hospitals provide you with specialized facilities, medical equipment, and advanced technology to monitor your pregnancy, whether you want a vaginal delivery or need a surgical intervention or specialized treatment. Just don’t forget to check your insured’s network and then take a look at the specialists who have access to that hospital.
Birthing centers can offer you a more personalized service in a relaxed atmosphere. Their trained professionals can help you with alternative pain management techniques, such as breathing exercises and massage. Special options, such as birthing tubs, are also available.
You are probably considering this option if you are at low risk for complications and prefer a vaginal birth in the comfort of your home. However, consult your doctor first, as it may or may not be a safe decision for you and your baby according to your medical history.
Questions To Ask on Your Hospital/Birthing Center Tour
You should consider whether the prenatal care professional works in the place you have chosen. If you prefer a specific hospital for the birth of your baby because of the facilities, services or care, start there, and then look for a health care practitioner. If you can take a virtual or in-person tour of the hospital, use the opportunity to ask questions such as:
- Is the hospital equipped with a newborn intensive care unit (NICU)?
- Are you allowed to “room in” with your baby?
- Is there a nursery available?
- Does the hospital or birthing center have single rooms available?
- Can your doula or midwife be present with you?
- Do they have alternative options for minimal intervention?
- Are they supportive in the skin-to-skin process after birth?
- What is the registration process like?
- What should you bring on the day of your delivery?
- Do they have a cord blood bank?
- What is the visitation process like?
Narrow your search for healthcare providers and hospitals by checking your insurance plan options. Insurance benefits and coverage vary, but tend to be less expensive if you stay in your network. Find out up front what your options are and if you’ll have to pay any bills on your own, this will help you organize your budget and avoid surprises.
Languages Spoken by the Provider and Staff
If you and your provider do not speak the same first language you may run into a language barrier. When deciding on the best provider for you, consider if a language barrier will make it difficult to understand one another. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with a provider who’s first language isn’t the same as yours. Rather, you’ll just want to be sure either the communication between you is still very clear, or there is a reliable translator available.
Meeting With Your Potential Provider
The decisions you make will shape the exciting journey ahead. But before reaching a concrete choice, hold an initial meeting with the provider, this way you may discover if their personality, philosophy, values, and techniques are compatible with you.
During your appointment, clarify some important points regarding your health, the provider’s schedule, and the way they work. Some of the questions you might want to add to your list include:
- Will your provider be available to deliver your baby?
- How often are check-ups?
- Who will take your calls in case of any after-hours health problems?
- Is your provider certified?
- Will you receive care from a nurse during prenatal visits or from a physician?
- Is your provider part of a collaborative group practice?
- Does their philosophy on pregnancy match yours?
- Is your birth plan respected?
- Does your provider offer you options if your birth plan is likely to change?
- At what hospital or birthing center can your provider care for you?
After you know what your philosophy is on pregnancy, delivery, and care it will be easier to determine if a provider is the right fit. Maybe you prefer a holistic approach, where you consider more than just the physical factors of wellness, but also emotional and spiritual. Or perhaps evidence-based practices where decisions are made on the most up-to-date and valid evidence in science will guide your choices makes the most sense. And, many women thrive in a patient-centered philosophy relationship with their provider where empathy, respect, and compassion drive each interaction. Determine what matters most to you and aim to find a provider who aligns with your values.
Making Your Decision
We know this is a lot of information and a lot to consider. When it comes to taking all of this insight and putting into action, there are a few steps you can take:
- Determine what’s important to you for pregnancy care, a birth plan, and postpartum care
- Schedule consultations with potential healthcare providers
- Prepare questions to ask the providers that will help you determine if they align with your values and beliefs
- Discuss insurance coverage and financial considerations with both the provider and your insurance carrier
- Seek testimonials and reviews from current and previous patients
- After gathering all of the information, evaluate it and determine what fits best for you
- Contact the provider(s) you want to work with and schedule your first appointment
If you want to live the experience guided by different prenatal health professionals, you can do that, too. Many providers work together to offer all the services required by the patient according to the medical history. For example, for a high-risk pregnancy, you may choose a doula for emotional support and an OB-GYN to provide services in the management of complications.
Your Plan May Change—That’s OK
Be aware that other unforeseen circumstances may arise. It’s great when you know what you want and don’t want, but your birth plan should be flexible enough in case your medical condition changes over the months or if during labor your needs are different from your expectations.
Don’t feel guilty if you decide to continue with another provider when the communication, relationship, and understanding with your first choice didn’t work out. It is common for some women to seek another opinion, although we acknowledge sometimes this isn’t financially possible.
Trust Your Instincts
Above all else, remember that you are the one who knows how to take care of you best. Yes, having a healthcare provider is highly beneficial as we enter a new part of life. But, you alone will know when something does or doesn’t feel right. Trust yourself knowing that you know your own needs best. Use the time during your pregnancy to build a trusting relationship with your provider. This way you can rest easy knowing they will follow your birth plan as closely as possible.