Family practice doctors provide treatment for every family member, regardless of gender and age. They are general medical practitioners, and will refer patients to specialists for health issues beyond their expertise. Some family practice physicians may also monitor women through all stages of her pregnancy, assist during childbirth and provide postnatal care.
Family practice doctors complete standard medical training, which includes a four year medical school and a three-year medical residency. After successfully passing the American Board of Family Medicine exams, he or she must recertify every seven to ten years, depending on the state. The recertification process ensures that doctors are aware of new developments in the area of family healthcare. All family doctors should hold a M.D. or D.O. degree from an accredited university.
A small percentage of family doctors also provide obstetrical services. Some women prefer dually certified doctors, since they can care for every family member. Such doctors begin caring for a baby before its birth, and continue throughout its childhood. A few family doctors are trained to perform C-sections, but most hand over high risk pregnancies to a full-time obstetrician. Generally, family doctors deliver only in hospitals, but a few exceptions may exist.
A pregnant woman should seek the service of a licensed family doctor if:
Remaining with a family doctor has several advantages. First, they are fully aware of the medical history of the entire family, not just the expectant mother’s medical history. This provides the doctor with a big-picture view of any potential complications that may arise during the pregnancy and labor. Second, as general practitioners, family doctors possess a wide range of experience, which helps them understand the needs of pregnant women in a more holistic manner. Third, family doctors focus on family-centered care and are open to answering questions and addressing doubts not only of the woman, but of other family members as well. Fourth, family practice doctors often charge less for their services than obstetricians. Finally, women are often more comfortable with family doctors as they’ve known them for some time. A family doctor understands what’s normal for a particular woman and may be able to spot abnormalities earlier than specialized doctors who have known the woman for much less time.
Remaining with a family doctor may also have several disadvantages. First, most family doctors lack the specialized knowledge of obstetricians; if complications arise and a C-section is necessary, it is likely the family doctor will hand over the case to a doctor unknown to the woman. This can result in great stress during an already anxious time. Second, almost all family doctors render services exclusively in hospitals. If a woman wishes to give birth at home or a birthing center, a family doctor may not attend the birth. Third, family doctors prefer to handle only low risk pregnancies. If a woman falls into the high risk category, her family doctor may prefer that she see a specialist. Finally, several studies indicate that a woman may be more likely to need medical interventions during delivery when attended by a family practice physician instead of a midwife. Since family doctors practice general medicine, they may lack the practical experience regarding childbirth resident in most midwifery practices.
In short, a family doctor can exist as an excellent mentor for a woman throughout her pregnancy and childbirth; however, should unforeseen complications arise, a woman should be aware that her care may be provided by someone she does not know. For maximum benefit, a woman can have guidance from her family doctor and an obstetrician or midwife.
Kathryn is a baby-wearing, cloth diapering, DIY mom to her quickly growing and pretty cute toddler. When she isn't researching and writing about natural approaches to pregnancy and parenting, she's acting out her favorite children's books or singing off-key made-up songs.