Understanding the Differences Between a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Doctor and an OB-GYN

If you’re living with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, your primary care doctor or OB-GYN may refer you to a maternal-fetal medicine doctor (MFM) who can provide specialized care and monitoring throughout the entirety of your pregnancy. This added safety net in your pregnancy journey helps you and your OB-GYN ensure that your pregnancy is as safe as possible for both mother and child.

Each year, approximately 20% of all pregnancies are classified as “high risk.”

Although all OB-GYNs can effectively care for at-risk pregnancies, it is always a great idea to add an MFM doctor to your standard of care. Having both specialty doctors in your corner ensures your high-risk issues and conditions are addressed and cared for alongside your routine OB-GYN visits and care.

Let’s explore the differences between an MFM doctor and an OB-GYN and discuss the benefits of these doctors working together for optimal pregnancy care.

First, What Is Maternal-Fetal Medicine?

Maternal-fetal medicine is an OB-GYN subspecialty that focuses on assessing, diagnosing, and managing risks and complications of pregnancy that affect both the mother and child.

What Does an MFM Doctor Do?

MFM doctors, or perinatologists, are OB-GYNs who have undergone specialty training and extended education to manage all types of high-risk pregnancies effectively.

An MFM doctor works with you and your OB-GYN to

  • provide personalized recommendations for care
  • monitor a mother more closely during pregnancy
  • oversee and initiate any testing or treatment for the mother and baby

MFM care can begin before a baby is conceived, during pregnancy, or after delivery.

Along with your OB-GYN, MFM doctors often work closely with other specialists such as neonatologists, pediatric cardiologists or surgeons.

Before conception, an MFM doctor can

  • create a comprehensive roadmap to ensure you have the healthiest pregnancy possible
  • review the benefits of genetic testing

During pregnancy, an MFM doctor will

  • diagnose and treat pregnancy complications
  • create a personalized care plan for you and your baby
  • provide state-of-the-art testing such as fetal echocardiograms, ultrasounds, biophysical profiles and prenatal genetic testing such as amniocentesis

During labor and delivery, an MFM doctor may

  • assist with delivery
  • review complications and make in-the-moment care decisions alongside your OB-GYN and other specialists
  • provide after-birth care recommendations for mother and child

It’s important to note that in most cases, an MFM doctor works alongside your regular OB-GYN throughout the entirety of your pregnancy to provide additional care explicitly related to your high-risk complications.

How Does an MFM Doctor Differ From an OB-GYN?

All MFM doctors are OB-GYNs, while not all OB-GYNs are MFM doctors.

An MFM doctor has received 3 additional years of training to manage high-risk pregnancies, including diagnosis and treatment for both the mother and child.

Most women continue to see their regular OB-GYN for routine pregnancy appointments, with periodic visits to their MFM doctor for a specific review of their high-risk conditions.

Who Should See an MFM Doctor?

MFM doctors are ideal for women who currently live with or develop chronic health conditions before or during pregnancy.

They are also a great option for women at advanced maternal age, especially those over 35 years old.

Some of the most common health conditions that an MFM should manage before conception and during pregnancy include

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Thyroid disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Cancer

You may also be referred to an MFM doctor if you’ve had a premature delivery or previous high-risk pregnancies.

MFM Care With No Preexisting Conditions

Although many women have healthy pregnancies, complications can arise during pregnancy that are unrelated to any preexisting condition.

In that case, your OB-GYN may refer you to an MFM doctor for complications or risks due to

  • A multiple pregnancy
  • Fetal growth restriction
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum
  • A congenital disability or chromosomal abnormality
  • Preeclampsia
  • Placental problems, like placenta previa
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Cervical insufficiency
  • An increased risk of preterm labor and birth

It’s important to note that MFM doctors can help manage complications following birth, such as heavy bleeding, elevated blood pressure or gestational diabetes.

High-Risk Pregnancy Care You Can Count On

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, have been told that you are at-risk for complications, or are living with preexisting conditions that should be monitored before conception, our MFM specialists are here to help.

You don’t have to manage the risks of a high-risk pregnancy alone. Contact us today to learn more about navigating maternal health concerns with the help of an MFM doctor and your OBGYN as you plan to conceive or navigate your current pregnancy journey.