What to Look For
The first question you should ask yourself about finding a practitioner is what you are looking for: Do you want a practitioner who will listen to you and be your partner in the decision-making for your pregnancy? Would you prefer someone to take the driver's seat and tell you what to do? What kind of bedside manner is important to you? These are qualities you might think about before choosing a doctor or midwife.
Where do you want to give birth? While it may seem a bit early to start planning that far ahead, it's very important to choose some place in the beginning to ensure that your practitioner, your insurance company, and you are all on the same page. You can change your mind later if need be, but do as much as you can as early as possible. If you want to give birth in a birth center, it's best to narrow the practitioner field to only those that do birth centers. If you're concerned you may need a neonatal care unit for your very ill infant, you need to ensure your practitioner has privileges at that location.
There are many questions that you should ask any potential practitioner that you interview. Decide ahead of time which questions you consider deal breakers — if a practitioner doesn't answer the way you like, you'll know you can mark her off your list for good without wasting time asking her the questions you consider less important. Call and ask to speak with the doctor or midwife. Leave your number for a call back at a convenient time. When you speak to him, ask the questions that you care about most. If their responses aren't what you need, move on down your list. If he or she doesn't call you back, that might be a sign that you don't want to use that person.
If you have been an infertility patient you may not be released from the care of your fertility specialist until eight to twelve weeks of pregnancy. This is to allow you the continued support from your doctor during the period of high risk for your pregnancy to be lost. Ask your fertility specialist about their policy.
After you've narrowed the field to a few practitioners, take the rest of your list of questions to meet with them in person at their offices. Sometimes you're pretty sure about a practitioner and make your first visit in combination with your interview. That is acceptable. If you are a bit more hesitant or don't like combining physical exams with the interview, ask if you can have fifteen minutes in his or her schedule without a physical portion. Some common questions to ask are included here.
Where do you practice?
Who are you in practice with? When might I see these people?
What is your standard appointment schedule? When will I be seen weekly? How long is each appointment?
What is the schedule of special tests? Where are they performed and what if I have questions?
How do you feel about me bringing someone with me — partner, friend, children, parents, doula, etc.?
How does your call schedule work? Who takes calls with you?
What are your office hours? Do you have Saturday or evening hours?
How many patients do you have in your practice? How many births do you do every month? What percentage of your own patients do you attend in labor?
What is your primary cesarean rate? What is your vaginal birth after cesarean rate (VBAC)?
What is your episiotomy rate?
What is your policy on induction? What types of induction do you do?
What percentage of women in your practice use medication at birth? What is the most common form of medication they use?
What are your general orders for laboring women? Are these negotiable?
Are you familiar with natural childbirth techniques? How could you help me if I choose to go without medications?
What is the best way to reach you in an emergency or during labor? Who answers the phone system?
How many births have you attended?
What is your training? Are you certified? If so, by whom?
What types of emergencies have you handled?
Do you have special childbirth classes that you refer families to?
Do you have a list of doulas (professional labor support women) to refer us to?
For birth centers and home births, consider also asking:
Who will come with you in labor? Can I meet them beforehand? Do I have a choice?
How long will I stay at the birth center? Can my extended family stay?
What are the main reasons to transport? Who makes that decision? Where would you take me if I needed to transport?
Do you work with a specific hospital or back-up physician? Will I meet him or her in my pregnancy?