How to choose a primary health care provider for pregnancy
Updated: Jun 19, 2018
One of the joys and privileges of practising as a GP Obstetrician is accompanying a woman and her partner on their journey from pre-conception, to discovering they are pregnant, through the highs and lows of pregnancy, the birth, the transition to parenthood and the new chapter that unfolds as their child grows.
There is something incredibly special about becoming a parent, and in my mind the process takes not just nine-months, but an entire lifetime. It is also a particularly vulnerable time for a woman, and for this reason I believe that choosing a primary health care provider who you trust is of utmost importance.
The role of your primary health care provider
There are a number of roles your primary health care provider may play for you during this journey into and through parenthood. Initially, you will likely start preparing your body, mind and spirit for pregnancy. You will start scrutinising your diet and lifestyle choices, thinking about your fertility and considering whether you need to take special precautions to optimise your health. A general practitioner is the perfect health professional to assist you with these tasks, however there are others you may like to consider to include in your team, such as a midwife, naturopath, psychologist, osteopath and health coach, to name just a few. One thing I encourage all women to do when choosing a health practitioner is do some background research first.
Key research questions to consider:
Does the practitioner have a special interest in women’s health and pregnancy?
Have any of your friends seen them? What was their experience?
Did they feel the practitioner answered their questions in a respectful way?
Did they trust the practitioner’s judgement and advice?
Of course, each individual is going to have a unique experience with a particular practitioner, however I do think a positive personal reference goes a long way to building your confidence in your health practitioner.
Try before you commit
I would also encourage women to try before they commit. Never feel that you can’t change your mind. If you don’t feel you have established a positive rapport, or your needs are not being met, it is ok to seek a second opinion. This journey is a significant one, and it’s your right to choose a health practitioner that makes you feel safe and supported.
Considering your birth
I also encourage you to think about the type of birth you would like, and whether this is likely to be possible with the health practitioner you are choosing. For example, if you would prefer a waterbirth, then a specialist obstetrician at a private hospital may not be the ideal practitioner for you. Similarly, if you would like an elective Caesarean section, you will need to involve a doctor with these specialist skills as part of your team. You could, however, choose a shared care model, including a midwife, GP and obstetrician if your preference was to have a team of holistic care providers.
When it comes time to meet with your health practitioner, be prepared to share your health and personal information, your hopes and goals for your pregnancy and birth, and have some questions ready to ask them. As a GP obstetrician, I always collect a detailed health history from the woman and her partner, as this is vital for planning management of the pregnancy. I also like to find out early on what the couple’s preferences are for their pregnancy and birth, so we can discuss any potential issues and ensure that I am able to support these wishes. There are occasions when I need to explain the pros and cons of a particular preference, and potentially refer on to a specialist obstetrician if I identify risk factors that mean it is not safe for me to be the primary health care provider for the woman. I encourage women to ask questions about the testing that we perform in pregnancy, and I provide evidence-based information on each of the tests, including why we test and what we can offer when the tests come back with a result that suggests further intervention may be required.
You have choices
I believe it is important that women understand that they do have choices, and for me to explain the implications of their choices for themselves and their baby. I do suggest that women consider writing a pregnancy and birth plan so that we can review this together and answer any questions that may come up during the process. There are templates for “Questions to ask your doctor” as well as “Creating a birth plan” included in the Healthy Happy Mums and Bubs online program and I encourage you to take a look if this program appeals to you.
In summary, choosing a primary health care provider for your pregnancy is a process that will require some time and effort to consider your hopes and expectations, and locate a practitioner who is most likely to support you on your journey. Wishing you all the very best as you embark on the most transformative journey of your life.