Information about healthcare professionals who will provide antenatal care during your pregnancy and labour, as well as your early days as a parent.
Depending on what type of pregnancy you have: straightforward, complicated or high risk, you may be required to see a variety of healthcare professionals specialising in different areas of pregnancy and birth. This article outlines the medical staff you may meet during this time.
Your first contact with a healthcare professional is likely to be after a positive pregnancy test. Your next step will then be to book an appointment with either your GP or midwife to confirm your pregnancy and get yourself into the ‘maternity system’. This is often referred to as the ‘booking in’ appointment.
When you do meet with either your GP or midwife for the first time, use this opportunity to ask any questions you might have as well as discuss anything you think may be relevant to your pregnancy.
If you have any non-pregnancy related medical problems during your pregnancy, then visit your GP who will ensure that you are treated in accordance with your pregnancy. Furthermore, GPs are responsible for providing your postnatal medical care and will be able to advise you on issues, such as contraception once your baby has been born.
As long as your pregnancy is straightforward, a midwife can provide all your antenatal care. If complications arise, a midwife will refer you to an obstetrician, a doctor who is trained to deal with special situations.
Within the NHS there are hospital and community midwives.
Hospital midwives are based in a hospital obstetric or consultant unit, a birth centre or midwife led unit. They staff the antenatal clinic, labour ward, and postnatal wards.
Community midwives often work in teams and provide a degree of continuity of care. In pregnancy, they can see you either at home or at a clinic. When you go into labour they are available for a home birth, or in a few places, they may come into the labour ward in the hospital to be with you.
Once your baby is born, they’ll visit you at home for up to 10 days after birth. Community midwives also provide postnatal care for women who have been looked after during labour by hospital midwives.
During the course of your pregnancy, you will be offered the opportunity to have two ultrasound scans and perhaps more if needed. These scans use sound waves to build a picture of the baby in your womb. The scans willanswer questions about your baby’s due date and developmental progress.
The person responsible for giving you an ultrasound is a ‘sonographer’, more commonly known as a radiographer. They will look to see how your baby is growing, as well as your placenta and your uterus.
An obstetrician is a doctor who specialises in pregnancy and childbirth. They perform surgical procedures that are related to labour and delivery, such as using ventouse or forceps and conducting a caesarean section. If everything in your pregnancy appears to be straightforward then it is unlikely that you will meet an obstetrician.
A perinatologist is an obstetrician who can offer more specialised care; focusing on the medical and surgical management of high-risk pregnancies. Perinatologists are generally obstetricians who have undergone further training. Generally you will only come across one if you find yourself in a specialist maternity unit.
If you have a medical problem, such as heart or kidney disease, hypertension or diabetes (for example) or your pregnancy is classed as ‘complicated’ (i.e. you might have a premature baby, you are suffering from pre-eclampsia or a multiple birth is suspected) then you will be referred to a perinatologist. They are specially trained in diagnosing foetal development and abnormalities using ultrasound technology and can operate on the foetus in the womb if necessary.
If you find you are experiencing muscle and/or joint problems during or soon after your pregnancy, then you may be referred to an obstetric physiotherapist who will assess and then treat you. The obstetric physiotherapist is a skilled teacher of effective relaxation, breathing awareness and positioning who can prepare pregnant women and their partners for childbirth.
An anaesthetist is a doctor who specialises in providing pain relief. If you decide to have some form of pain relief during birth, for example an epidural, this will be the person who will administer it to you. Similarly, if you have a caesarean section or instrumental delivery then it will be the anaesthetist who provides the pain relief.
A paediatrician is a doctor who specialises in the care of babies and children. If you have a difficult birth, the paediatrician will be present to check your baby and ensure that everything is ok. If your baby has any problems you will be able to discuss these with a paediatrician. They may be present if you have a ‘normal’ birth, or they may not. If you choose to have a home birth or your stay in hospital is brief then you may not see a paediatrician at all.
Neonatal nurses are specially trained to work with newborn babies who are premature or are born sick. They are also trained to support parents through difficult and stressful periods. They will be on hand to assist new parents in every aspect of their baby’s care, helping them gain confidence in caring for their sick or premature baby.
A health visitor is a nurse or midwife who has had extra training in child development and healthcare. You will most likely meet your health visitor for the first time during the latter stages of your pregnancy and in the first few weeks after.
In the early days, they can provide advice on feeding, weaning and dental health. They are also able to do physical and developmental checks. They will be able to answer questions and concerns that you might have and also help you find further support if you need it.
They will either make home visits or you can arrange to meet them at your local children’s centre, health clinic or GP surgery until your child is five years old.
Page last updated: 3 July 2014
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council website gives more information about the role of the midwife as well as a leaflet called Raising concerns about a nurse or midwife, which explains how patients, carers and the public can raise a concern about a nurse or midwife.