Obstetrician? Gynecologist? Primary care physician? If you’re a woman, you have a variety of doctors you can see for health care, but which one—ones?—do you really need?
Primary care physicians are used to seeing a variety of patients of all ages. From migraines to a urinary tract infection (UTI) to flu shots or constipation, primary care doctors have seen it all. But when you want a doctor who may be more focused on a particular type of medicine, you may want a specialist. An obstetrician/gynecologist (OB-GYN), focusing on the female reproductive system, can be the doctor of choice, in addition to a general doctor.
What is an OB-GYN?
An OB-GYN practices the area of medicine associated with reproductive health, pregnancy and childbirth. Some doctors practice only gynecology (reproductive health) and some practice only obstetrics (pregnancy, labor and delivery), but the majority of doctors practice both areas. OB-GYNs may evaluate infertility, abnormal Pap smears, endometriosis, breast disorders and incontinence; provide prenatal consultations; and monitor high-risk pregnancies as well as all phases of labor and delivery, including performing a cesarean section.
How do people become OB-GYNs?
Like other physicians, OB-GYNs must complete four years at an accredited medical school and then a residency program, which provides supervised on-the-job training at a hospital. Once training is complete, they must pass an exam to become certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
OB-GYNs may also specialize in maternal-fetal medicine, concentrating on pregnant women with chronic health problems.
When should you see an OB-GYN?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends teenagers see a gynecologist even before they turn 21. Although ACOG says women do not need a Pap smear until they are 21, they should see a gynecologist early to discuss periods, sexual health, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
In addition to this recommendation, if you have any concerns, such as painful periods or symptoms of a UTI, you should see your OB-GYN.
If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant, you may want to see your OB-GYN to discuss prenatal care, and once you’ve become pregnant, you’ll see your doctor for routine prenatal care. Your first appointment will usually be after you’ve tested positive for being pregnant — about eight weeks after your last period. If there are no concerns along the way, you’ll schedule monthly visits during the bulk of the pregnancy and more frequent visits as the due date gets closer.
You should also see your OB-GYN after the baby’s birth to discuss your own postnatal care, which includes the healing process, emotional and physical adjustment to parenthood, and future birth control options.
Do you need an OB-GYN and a GP?
This question comes up, particularly when women are contemplating gynecological care. Can you one-stop shop and have your OB-GYN be your full-time health provider? Likewise, can you go to your family doctor for a pelvic exam?
It depends. Your primary care doctor may or may not feel comfortable providing more specialized care. Likewise, your OB-GYN may not want to provide more general care. And, if you have certain health conditions, your doctor may want you to see a specialist.
One study from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine indicates that primary care physicians are more likely to address other medical problems such as mental health issues, metabolic conditions, and circulatory, respiratory, digestive and skin disease issues during a preventive gynecological visit.
Bottom line? Finding a doctor you’re comfortable with and that you’ll go to for answers and care is what’s most important.
Find an OB-GYN
For breastfeeding support, newborn services, pre-pregnancy counseling, prenatal testing and more, find an OB-GYN that suits your needs.View Physicians