What Happens If Your OB Isn't There To Deliver Your Baby

Pregnant person and doctor

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I never considered that the OB/GYN I’d been seeing throughout my first pregnancy wouldn’t be at the hospital to deliver my baby. Not until I was about 38 weeks pregnant and chatting with a friend who had given birth around six months earlier.

“Will your doctor be at the hospital?” she asked. I was confused by the question.

“I assume so,” I replied. She told me that hers wasn’t, that her baby was delivered by the OB who was on-call when she went into labor.

“Oh. I guess I should ask then,” I said.

But even after this conversation, I still assumed my OB/GYN would be there. When I asked at my next appointment, I remember saying, “So when I decide to go to the hospital, I call you and you meet me there?”

“Oh no,” said my doctor, a senior member of the practice. “I only go for the high-risk pregnancies. It will be the on-call doctor.”

This revelation didn’t necessarily worry me. I didn’t have a very unique or specific birth plan apart from doing whatever it took to get my baby out safely, and while I liked my doctor, I had only been seeing him since I became pregnant.

Still, it was a little shocking and it forced me to rethink what my labor and delivery were going to look like. I had always assumed this was how it worked, probably in large part due to the countless scenes in movies and TV shows when the character goes into labor, their doctor isn’t available, and chaos ensues.

In hindsight, I believe this was actually the best possible scenario for me. The OB I saw throughout my pregnancy was a mild-mannered, laid-back older man who always made me feel at ease, which was exactly what I needed during my first pregnancy.

But when I was on hour 12 of labor and didn’t think I could push one more time, the pep talk I got from the tall female on-call doctor with an inspiring and commanding voice (plus the incredible labor and delivery nurse, my mom, and my husband who were with me throughout) was ultimately what gave me the confidence and strength to deliver my son.

But even though it was ideal for me, there are parents-to-be for whom this situation may be much more of a shock or even a cause of distress. Here, OB/GYNs share what you should know about this practice, how common it is, and what options you have.

How Often Are Babies Delivered by a Different OB?

Experts agree that it's become more common over the last 20 years for babies to be delivered by a different OB.

“The practice of obstetrics has shifted over the past two decades as we’ve become more aware of the impact of fatigue on physician decision-making and response time,” shares Ashley Roman, MD, MPH, a Silverman professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and vice chair for clinical affairs in obstetrics at NYU Langone Health. “It's shifted more to a group model recognizing that it isn’t safe or feasible for one person to be on call for their patients 24/7, 365 days a year.”

The group model typically means that pregnant people will meet everyone in the practice over the course of their pregnancy so they are familiar with all the providers.

“When I was in private practice, all patients had to 'rotate through,' ideally seeing each provider at least once before giving birth, with the understanding that any one of us may be present for their delivery,” says Carmen Farrior, MD, an OB/GYN at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical
Center. “It’s important when choosing an OB/GYN that you feel comfortable with the entire team of physicians, as well as the delivering hospital—and their approach to patient care and labor and delivery.”

You may even see more than one healthcare provider over the course of your labor, depending on when you arrive and how long your labor is, notes Dr. Farrior. This could be due to shift changes, which typically happen every 12 hours, or the type of hospital where you are delivering. I gave birth at a teaching hospital, so a team of five or six providers came in to introduce themselves early in my labor, but not all of them came back for the delivery.

The good news: If the idea of seeing a different OB/GYN at every appointment during your pregnancy doesn’t jive with you, that’s OK. Dr. Roman says that she typically lets patients decide what experience they prefer.

“I ask them, what is more important to them?” she shares. “Is it seeing someone consistently throughout prenatal care so that you feel like one person really knows you and your journey through pregnancy? Or is it having an opportunity to meet all of the providers in the practice so that when it comes time to deliver you aren’t meeting a new person for the first time?”

The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and prepared for any possibility.

What Happens if a Different OB Needs To Deliver My Baby?

While this group approach to care is the norm now, there are times when your OB may be present to deliver your baby. “In an ideal world, you build a strong connection with your OB over eight months of prenatal care and that doctor is present throughout your labor and delivery of your child,” notes Dr.
Roman. “And there are times that this still may happen, even if someone receives care in a group practice model.”

That said, there are a number of factors that will influence which provider is present—the first being purely logistical. “It’s likely that your OB/GYN has a full roster of patients, some of whom go into labor at the same time,” says Dr. Farrior. “Then there are providers’ scheduled vacations, etc., which everyone needs to stay healthy and well in mind, body and spirit.”

If complications arise as you near your due date, you may also need to see a different OB.

“A patient may be unexpectedly hospitalized for a complication related to the pregnancy, such as bleeding or rupture of membranes before her due date, for example, and be admitted for sometimes days or weeks before their due date,” says Andrea Collerius Fitzgerald, MD an OB/GYN at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. “A complication could happen at any time of day or night, and the physician in the hospital will be responsible for taking care of the patient emergently. In such cases, the doctor in the hospital might not have ever met the patient before.”

Regardless of the circumstance, you should feel comfortable with any provider you may see. “Ideally, you should understand and feel confident that any physician or care team that takes part in your baby’s birth would have gone through a rigorous training, that most providers have years of experience, and that reputable hospitals require physicians to be board certified or board eligible,” says Dr. Farrior.

Should I Try and Wait For My Normal OB?

If you feel strongly about having your OB deliver your baby, you may be able to make that a reality. "Labor is a process and can take 18 to 24 hours [or more],” notes Dr. Fitzgerald. “In most cases, it is safe to wait for the provider to deliver as long as the baby is not in distress.”

Indeed, it all comes down to safety and what is best for both the pregnant person's and the baby's health. “While a pregnant person might want to 'wait for their OB,' [that shouldn't mean] delaying a recommended intervention, like inducing labor for high blood pressure, for instance,” says Dr. Roman. “This type of delay would not be safe.”

Instead of approaching your delivery with the idea that you are going to try to wait for your provider no matter what, experts recommend taking steps to prepare for any possible scenario. “If you have concerns about who will be delivering your baby, it’s best to raise the issue with your obstetrician as early as possible, so you can make a plan that is as safe, feasible, and comfortable as possible for you both,” says Dr. Farrior.

A Word From Verywell Family

While you may hope that your regular healthcare provider will be present when you give birth, that is not always the case anymore. Most practices will take steps to prepare you for any possible situation, make sure you’re comfortable with every provider, and assure you that no matter who is catching your baby, they are trained, experienced, and qualified to bring your little one into the world safely.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pecci, C. et. al. The birth of a collaborative model: obstetricians, midwives, and family physicians. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 2012;39(3):323-334.

  2. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are some common complications during labor and delivery?

  3. American Board of Medical Specialties. American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

  4. National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women's Health. Labor and birth.