What is Obstetrics?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Gynecology and obstetrics are twin subjects that deal with the female reproductive system. While obstetrics deals with pregnancy and its associated procedures and complications, gynaecology involves treating women who are not pregnant.

The field of obstetrics thus deals with the wellbeing of the pregnant mother as well as the delivery and healthy outcome.

Obstetricians closely work with the paediatricians and neonatologists to deal with care of the newborn baby to reduce the chances of mortality and disease of the newborn.

Functions of an obstetrician

Gynecologists and obstetricians both deal with the wellbeing of females and obstetricians especially deal with pregnant mothers. The procedures and functions that they perform include:-

  • Normal delivery and performing essential assisting steps. Obstetricians are responsible for working in collaboration with midwives to monitor and assist normal delivery in a woman during labour.
  • Their functions include facilitating delivery by performing episiotomy that involves placing strategic cuts over the perineum of the pregnant mother to enlarge the birth canal.
  • Sometimes prolonged labour might require assistance to speed up the process in order to reduce maternal fatigue and fetal distress (rising heart rate and possible brain damage to the baby). This uses techniques like forceps delivery and vacuum assisted delivery.
  • Caesarean (or C) section that requires surgical removal of the baby from the mother’s womb to reduce the complications that arise during labour. These complications in turn may cause death or damage to the newborn unless delivery is expedited with C section.
  • Diagnosis and treatment of ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized ovum gets implanted in any place other than the womb. Commonly it gets implanted in the fallopian tubes.

As the fetus begins to grow in the tube there is a risk of rupture of the tubes and this may be life threatening. The obstetrician detects and removes such pregnancy before it can cause serious harm.

  • In some women who have had pervious miscarriages cervical circlage operation involving placement of sutures around the cervix are performed to prevent miscarriages.
  • If the baby is not in its birthing position with the head down, the obstetrician manipulates the baby from outside to bring it to its correct position. This is called External cephalic version (ECV).
  • Diagnosis of congenital abnormalities while the baby is still within the womb that includes detection of Down’s syndrome using ultrasound and techniques like chorionic villus sampling.
  • Advice on contraception and fitting Intra uterine contraceptive device (IUCD).
  • Using ultrasound to detect pregnancy and fetal well being.
  • Detection and management of abortion, miscarriage and procedures like Dilatation and Curettage (D & C) or Dilatation and Evacuation (D & E).

Training required

To become a qualified obstetrician, both obstetrics and gynaecology are chosen as specialism subjects.

A degree in medicine followed by two years of training is required. This is then followed by postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Last Updated: Jul 29, 2013

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