What Is a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist?

What Is a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and How Do I Find the Right One for Me?

Along your pregnancy journey, you’ll meet many providers, specialists and care workers. One you may not be familiar with is the maternal-fetal medicine specialist. 

Maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) doctors are OB-GYNs trained to care for pregnant women and their unborn children during pregnancies where the mother, baby or both are at high risk of complications. 

You may be referred to an MFM specialist at any point in your pregnancy — including during the trying to conceive phase. Let’s take a closer look at this important specialty and how to choose the right MFM specialist for you and your baby. 

What Is an MFM Doctor? 

After completing medical school and a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, aspiring MFM specialists will spend an additional two to three years as a fellow studying maternal-fetal medicine.

This extra training is what distinguishes OB-GYN providers from MFM specialists. While OB-GYNs may have some experience in handling high-risk pregnancies, MFM specialists are better equipped to manage complex conditions during pregnancy and childbirth. MFM providers have the necessary knowledge and training to handle the intricacies of high-risk pregnancies and complications, leading to better outcomes for both mothers and their babies.

When to See an MFM Specialist

Women can be referred to an MFM specialist at any point during their pregnancy, or after labor and delivery. Your OB-GYN is likely to recommend and refer you if you develop a condition that requires more specialized care. The MFM specialist will work together with your OB-GYN and other members of your care team to provide you and your baby with the best possible care. 

Some of the most common reasons women are referred to MFM specialists include

High-risk prenatal care. If you’ve had high-risk pregnancies in the past, your OB-GYN may advise you to consult with a maternal-fetal specialist before getting pregnant. The specialist will review your health history and give you advice. 

Complications for the mother. Your OB-GYN may refer you to maternal-fetal medicine specialists if you have certain conditions that worsen or arise during your pregnancy. These can include: 

  • Chronic medical conditions such as heart or kidney disease, hypertension, autoimmune disease, diabetes or cancer
  • Unexpected problems that develop during pregnancy, such as bleeding or high blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Preeclampsia
  • Pregnant with multiples
  • Fetal abnormalities
  • Placenta complications
  • Preterm labor

Complications for the baby. Sometimes, it’s the baby who faces challenges. If doctors discover a birth defect or growth problem, MFM specialists can begin caring for your baby while it’s still in utero. Some common conditions include: 

  • Birth defects, including those that affect the central nervous system, spinal cord, heart, kidneys and bladder and musculoskeletal system. 
  • Chromosome problems, such as Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21), Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 18
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Exposure to drugs and chemicals
  • Growth problems
  • Infections

Postnatal care. MFMs can provide post-birth care for complications like bleeding, infections and surgical issues.

What Is It Like to Work With an MFM Specialist? 

If you’ve been referred to an MFM specialist, it’s normal to feel anxious and uncertain. Your MFM specialist and their team should help you to feel more at ease as they help you understand your condition, explain options for treatment and support you as you move through your high-risk pregnancy. 

What to Expect at Your First Appointment

MFM specialists offer personalized care because each patient and condition is unique. Your specialist will work closely with you to address your specific health concerns. During your initial visit, your specialist may: 

Review your medical history. When you visit your MFM specialist, they will ask about your medical history, including any conditions you have, past health history, previous pregnancies and your family’s medical history. This will include risk factors that could affect your pregnancy.

Talk to you about your concerns. You are the most important member of your care team. Your MFM specialist will discuss any concerns or risks associated with your pregnancy. This is a good time for you to ask questions and express any anxieties you may have.

Check on your baby. MFM specialists may perform fetal diagnostic screenings, including fetal MRI, ultrasound, fetal echocardiogram or genetic tests. 

Introduce you to the team. Your MFM specialist is one part of your care team as you navigate your high-risk pregnancy. You may also meet other specialists in areas like pediatric cardiology or fetal surgery, depending on what you and your baby need. They may also refer you to a genetic counselor. 

Offer a plan and recommendations. Once all the testing is finished, your MFM specialist will create a personalized care plan that suits your specific condition and requirements. This would be a great time for you to ask any questions you may have about the plan, future appointments or ongoing treatments.

8 Questions to Ask Your Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist

8 Questions to Ask Your Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist


How to Find the Right MFM Specialist for You

It’s important that you feel comfortable with your specialist and the entire team. Here are some factors that may influence your decision: 

  • Recommendation from your primary doctor. Your OB-GYN will likely offer a referral to a trusted fetal care center within your existing network.  
  • The experience and expertise of the maternal-fetal specialist and team. Does the team have experience treating your specific condition? 
  • Accessibility and location of the clinic. Is there a trusted center close to home, or will your family need to move temporarily? 
  • Communication style and approachability. It is important that your specialist listens to you, answers questions and keeps you informed as you navigate the uncertainties of high-risk pregnancy.
  • Compatibility with insurance. 
  • Patient reviews or testimonials. Recommendations from friends, family and other women who have been in a similar situation go a long way toward making you feel comfortable in your decision. 

When it comes time to select a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, there will likely be many factors that go into your decision. The most important component is that you feel comfortable and cared for. The trust between you and your care team should be any provider’s top priority. 

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