Professional attendants for the birth
You do have some choice about who attends your labour. Most women want to have their partner or a friend with them during childbirth, and hospitals welcome this. You may like to have a birth coach, too - someone who's been through it before and knows what to do.
Your doctor as a professional attendant
The first health professional you see will usually be your own general practitioner. You may already know a little about your doctor's views on childbirth - especially if you're thinking about having your baby at home. Some doctors are happy to attend a home delivery of a normal pregnancy, others are not so willing. Some fall somewhere in between, preferring that anyone who wants a home birth should have had at least one straightforward delivery in hospital first.
Many doctors provide antenatal care if you're having the baby in the hospital they've referred you to. Occasionally you may be able to attend your doctor's clinic even if you are booked into another hospital - look at all the options you can and talk to your doctor if you're not happy with what's on offer.
An obstetrician is a doctor who specializes in medical problems in pregnancy and childbirth. When you book into a hospital you'll be assigned to a particular obstetrician. You can ask to be referred to an obstetrician of your choice, although that consultant is not obliged to take you.
Although the number of women coming into the profession is rising, there are still more male than female obstetricians in most hospitals. If you feel strongly that you'd like a female obstetrician to attend you, find out if there are any at the hospital you're thinking of choosing. If there are, make it clear on your birth plan that you'd prefer to be seen by a female consultant. Of course, there's still no guarantee that the obstetrician you've chosen will be on duty at the time when you go into hospital to give birth to your baby.
You're not likely to see your consultant unless you have any problems during your pregnancy. Most of the routine care is provided by the junior doctors, who work alongside the midwives in the obstetrics team.
Midwives for the birth
The modern, professional midwife is a specialist in childbirth. She can care for you through your pregnancy and during labour and delivery, and knows when to call for extra advice and assistance. Unlike an obstetrician, her focus is the normal not the abnormal. She's interested in the whole of you, not just your uterus and how it may malfunction. Midwives working outside hospitals tend to be more flexible than hospital carers.
Midwives working under the “domino” (DOMiciliary IN and Out) scheme are community midwives who come to your house when labour starts, then take you to hospital for the delivery. Your family doctor and hospital staff are rarely involved. If all is well, you may be discharged in a few hours.
These midwives provide continuous care in different situations. They'll deliver your baby at home or in hospital and stay with you throughout the labour and delivery. Independent midwives are private practitioners and very expensive. You have to get agreement from your local hospital for an independent midwife to attend you there.
In most hospitals midwives now take the lead in the care of labouring women, although the obstetricians are officially in charge. You'll meet most of the midwives during your antenatal care and, if all goes well, they'll deliver your baby with as little obstetric intervention as possible. Your midwife could be a man - there are now over 150 male midwives in the UK and more are being trained.
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