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Perinatology, or maternal-fetal medicine, is the subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology that focuses on the management of high-risk pregnancies and the assessment and treatment of the fetus. By the mid-1970s, knowledge regarding maternal and fetal physiology and disease had evolved to the point where many obstetrician/gynecologists confined their practice to these areas. In 1974, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology began to offer an exam-based certification of special competency in this area. In 1977, the Society of Perinatal Obstetricians (now called the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine) was formed.

Modern maternal-fetal medicine specialists devote their professional practice to providing care for, and conducting research on, maternal medical disorders such as diabetes, premature labor, perinatal infectious disease, multiple gestation, and perinatal pharmacology. Additionally, they are actively involved in the assessment and treatment of the fetus. They assess fetal gestational age and growth; evaluate possible congenital anomalies; and assess the placenta and amniotic fluid and the adequacy of uteroplacental function. They employ a number of invasive techniques, such as amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, cordocentesis, and fetoscopy, to evaluate the fetus for genetic disorders and alloimmune disorders, evaluate fetal maturity, and treat the fetus with pharmacological agents or blood products.

Justin P. Lavin, Jr.

(see also: Child Health Services; Maternal and Child Health; Pregnancy; Prenatal Care )


D'Alton, M. E.; Poole, S.; and Rinehart, R. D. (1997). Society of Perinatal Obstetricians: The First Two Decades. Washington, DC: Society of Perinatal Obstetricians.