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What Does a Perinatologist Do?

Interviewing a new patient gives a perinatologist some background on the mother's pregnancy and history.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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A perinatologist, also known as a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, is a medical care provider who specializes in the care of high risk pregnancies. Women who are at risk of developing problems, or who have a history of complications during pregnancy, may be referred to this type of specialist care. The goal of this medical professional is to help a woman have a pregnancy that is as healthy as possible, and to address any problems as soon as they emerge. To become a perinatologist, a doctor needs to complete a residency in obstetrics, followed by a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine.

When a woman is referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, the doctor usually starts by conducting a routine ultrasound screening and a patient interview to get background on the pregnancy and the mother's history and to collect some basic information about the baby. The perinatologist can also conduct additional prenatal testing and diagnostic procedures to identify issues with the baby. After intake, he or she will discuss the pregnancy and the situation with the parents, and develop a treatment approach that will protect both mother and child.

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Doctors in this specialty can conduct certain medical procedures, such as the administration of medications through the placenta, to manage a high risk pregnancy, and they also routinely monitor their patients. The medical professional may write an order for bed rest or make other treatment recommendations to address concerns about the pregnancy, and he or she may also make recommendations about where the baby should be delivered.

When a woman goes into labor, the doctor may be part of the care team in the delivery room who work to keep the mother and baby healthy. If a baby does have complications that will need to be addressed shortly after birth, such as a congenital abnormality which requires surgery, the perinatologist will make plans ahead of time with the appropriate care providers, and work with the labor and delivery team to get the baby into surgery quickly. He or she may also make recommendations to other care providers, such as developmental psychologists who will help children with learning disabilities caused by genetic conditions.

The work is focused on keeping mother and baby as healthy as possible, and keeping the baby inside for the duration of gestation, if possible. Babies have a better chance of survival if they are born at full term, rather than when they are premature. While the doctor may not be directly involved in care after the baby is born, he or she usually helps assemble the care team for the high risk baby in the hospital, and may provide recommendations for care providers the parents can work with if the baby requires continuing specialty medical care after birth.

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