The development of a new baby is one of the most natural processes in the world, but nature occasionally needs a little help. Some of the most high-risk pregnancies and births can and do still result in healthy babies, thanks to the help of talented professionals and medical technology. When an obstetrics or gynecology specialist discovers that a pregnancy or new birth faces complications, they call in the assistance of a neonatal and perinatal specialist.

What Is a Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine Specialist?

A neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist cares for babies. The specialist is a physician with extra specialized training in the care of high-risk pregnancies, premature births, and babies who are critically ill at birth. Unlike an obstetrician or gynecologist, a neonatal and perinatal specialist focuses on the baby instead of the mother. However, a neonatal and perinatal specialist may also work with an obstetrician or gynecologist and a pediatrician to coordinate care to protect the baby during a high-risk pregnancy or birth.

Reasons to See a Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine Specialist

Your obstetrician, gynecologist or pediatrician will refer you to a neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist after discovering a health concern with your baby, whether before or after birth. Ultrasound during pregnancy can also indicate health concerns with the baby, which would warrant a referral. Some specific conditions that would require consultation with a neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist include the following:

  • Premature birth (defined as birth before the 37th week of pregnancy)
  • Cardiac abnormalities
  • Jaundice
  • Feeding problems
  • Meconium aspiration
  • Respiratory distress
  • Congenital defects
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Inherited metabolic disorders

Some obstetricians or gynecologists coordinate care of mothers of twins or multiple births with neonatal and perinatal medicine specialists as a rule. Multiple pregnancies are generally higher risk, in part because the babies are more likely to born before full term.

What Does a Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine Specialist Do?

Neonatal and perinatal medicine specialists are also the doctors who will perform surgery on infants in utero or shortly after birth. The tests they perform are dependent on the particular health condition that they suspect or discover. The doctor may order or perform the following tests or procedures, depending on the circumstances:

  • Laboratory tests, including blood tests
  • Lung function
  • Ultrasound
  • X-ray
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Surgery

How Is a Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine Specialist Certified?

Neonatal and perinatal medicine specialists have completed at least 10 years of higher education and practice in medicine. That's four years of medical school, three years of residency in pediatrics, plus a fellowship of three years in neonatal and perinatal medicine. The American Board of Pediatrics offers certification in neonatal and perinatal medicine.

You may not be able to research the qualifications of your neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist before seeing them for the first time. If you experience an unexpected emergency late in your pregnancy, the neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist on call may be assigned to manage your care. Once an emergency situation is stabilized, you may have more opportunity to research doctors and change to a different provider. You may be able to research doctors through a hospital database or state medical boards.

Referral and Research

If your pregnancy isn't progressing as expected or if your doctor discovers medical concerns about your baby, your obstetrician or gynecologist may refer your care to a neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist. You can also get the assistance of a specialist if your baby is born prematurely or develops previously undetected problems immediately after birth.

Your obstetrician, gynecologist, or pediatrician may refer you to a specific neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist. Or they may give you the option to choose your own neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist from a list of providers. If you want to learn more, you can conduct online searches to read patient reviews and check for malpractice claims against neonatal and perinatal medicine specialists in your area. Seeking the best possible provider to give your baby a healthy start is an important first step in being a parent.

First Meeting With Your Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine Specialist

You will likely have many questions during your first visit to a neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist. The discovery that something may be wrong with the health of their baby is a scary experience for any parent.

Your neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist will be expecting your questions and should be willing to provide the answers you need. Many neonatal and perinatal medicine specialists understand that new parents need reassurance. Write down any questions you may have, such as the following:

  • How long will it take my baby to recover?
  • What can I do to ensure my baby's health?
  • What symptoms would indicate a serious emergency?
  • When should I call 911?

Remember to ask who you should call if you have any additional questions that come up after your appointment. It's not uncommon for new parents to be worried and sleep-deprived, which makes it more likely that they'll forget to ask something.

If you're not sure that you chose the right neonatal and perinatal medicine specialist, you can always seek a second opinion from another doctor. Think about how important your child's health is to you and find a doctor you trust and with whom you feel comfortable. Caredash's search tool can help you find a doctor if you're in need of a new one.