pregnant woman places one hand over her pregnant belly while holding ultrasound pictures in another hand

Obstetrics vs. Gynaecology: What's the Difference?

Which specialist doctor are you supposed to be making an appointment with when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive — an obstetrician or a gynaecologist? But hold up, aren’t they the same type of doctor who deals with pregnant women? 

Anyone trying to conceive — or is already pregnant — would have heard of the term “OB-GYN.” For those new to it, “OB” refers to obstetrics, while “GYN” stands for gynaecology. As such, OB-GYN is a medical speciality split into two fields.

While obstetricians and gynaecologists are specialist doctors associated with caring for people whose gender at birth is female, these two types of doctors focus on distinct aspects of female reproductive health at different stages of life. Many healthcare professionals also choose to specialise in both fields and are thus known as OB-GYNs.

So, when should you see an obstetrician or a gynaecologist? What’s the difference between obstetrics and gynaecology? Is your OB-GYN capable of attending to your reproductive and fertility needs? Keep reading to find out more. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended as medical advice.


What Does an Obstetrician Do? 

An obstetrician is a medical specialist that primarily provides medical care for pregnant women and their newborns. This encompasses the entire pregnancy journey, from prenatal care to labour and delivery, not to forget postnatal care. 

An obstetrician also looks after the overall well-being of Mom and Baby. During and after the pregnancy, they will monitor the baby’s growth and detect and handle pregnancy complications, like preeclampsia and foetal discomfort. These also include health conditions that arise during labour and after giving birth such as gestational diabetes

Unlike a gynaecologist, an obstetrician helps to deliver your baby vaginally or through a cesarean section (aka C-section). However, the support of an obstetrician doesn’t just end after birth. They follow up on the health of the mother and newborn in the immediate days and weeks post-delivery to ensure there aren’t further health issues.


What Does a Gynaecologist Do?

A gynaecologist, or gynae for short, is a medical specialist that looks after the female reproductive system. 

Medical conditions that relate to the female reproductive system are plenty. The conditions that a gynaecologist can advise on include:

  • Irregular menstruation
  • Vaginal infections
  • Ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs that grow on the ovary) 
  • Uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growths in or around the uterus) 
  • Urinary conditions, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and overactive bladders 
  • Menopause
  • Pain during sexual intercourse, like vaginismus
  • Cancers in the female reproductive system 
  • Prolapse (when a pelvic organ like the uterus or bladder invades the vaginal space) 
  • Endometriosis

Besides diagnosing and treating specific conditions, a gynaecologist can also help conduct examinations of the female reproductive organs. Think pap smear tests, breast examinations, or pelvic examinations.

A gynae can also dish out advice on sexual health and wellness, including:

  • Contraceptives, for example, birth control pills and condoms 
  • Fertility treatments, such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), intra-uterine insemination (IUI), and intravaginal insemination (IVI) 
  • Testing for or the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

While they don’t handle deliveries or pregnancy complications, gynaecologists can perform surgical procedures on reproductive organs, such as:

  • Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and, in some cases, the cervix) 
  • Myomectomy (removal of uterine fibroids) 
  • Cone biopsy (removal of an abnormal tissue sample from the cervix) 
  • Oophorectomy (removal of one or both ovaries) 
  • Dilation and curettage (tissue removal from the uterus by dilating the cervix) 
  • Tubal ligation (a permanent birth control method in which both fallopian tubes are tied)

When you reach menopause, a gynaecologist can also help advise you on how to manage menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, especially if they affect your well-being.


Should I See a Gynaecologist, Obstetrician, or OB-GYN?

pregnant woman grins happily at doctor

Because a gynaecologist, obstetrician, and obstetrician-gynaecologist cover similar health issues, it can be tricky to decide which specialist to consult. Use our checklist to help determine which medical professional is right for your needs.


When Should You See an Obstetrician?

You should make an appointment with an obstetrician as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. Your obstetrician will be the go-to person for your pregnancy queries, no matter physical or emotional. Think of them as a guardian angel who watches over you and your baby to help ensure a smooth pregnancy.

Your obstetrician will also play an essential role in postpartum care for the first 3-12 weeks after delivery. Take note that this includes physiological, emotional, and mental health care. For example, obstetricians may advise new mothers on how to manage postpartum depression.


When Should You See a Gynaecologist?

For people trying to get pregnant, consider a visit to a gynaecologist for a fertility screening, especially if you’ve been trying for some time to no avail. 

You can also consult a gynaecologist when you have a non-pregnancy-related condition that affects the female reproductive organs, such as the vagina, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or cervix. This could be any time from the onset of puberty until after menopause.

Depending on your medical issue, you may be referred to a gynaecologist during your visit to a general practitioner.


When Should You See an OB-GYN?

Now that you know the difference between an obstetrician and a gynaecologist, you can also consider consulting an obstetrician-gynaecologist (aka OB-GYN) instead. 

Having been trained in obstetrics and gynaecology, an OB-GYN is a doctor specialising in women’s health and reproduction. They can examine, diagnose, treat, conduct procedures, and provide post-surgery care for female biology-related conditions. This allows them to cater to the full range of sexual wellness and healthcare needs for people with a female reproductive system. 

Where needed, an OB-GYN can provide healthcare services throughout your lifespan, from puberty and pregnancy to menopause and beyond. You can also visit an OB-GYN for reproductive matters, such as birth control, STDs, and fertility treatments like IVF. 

Last but not least, an OB-GYN can also provide guidance on your conception journey if you’re trying for a baby.


Planning for Your Pregnancy

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