There are several subtle differences between an OBGYN office and a fertility clinic. The biggest difference between an OBGYN and a fertility clinic is the patient population. An OBGYN provides care to all women, while a fertility clinic is specifically for people who are trying to get pregnant.
But Both Clinics Deal with Fertility!?
Yep, you read that right! OBGYN’s can perform a preliminary fertility evaluation, while a fertility clinic can do a much more extensive fertility evaluation. In addition, some OBGYN clinics provide fertility treatment which can include ovulation stimulation or IUI, while other OBGYN clinics do not.
In the table/section below, we cover the basic differences between an OBGYN clinic and a fertility clinic, as well as the differences between an OBGYN and a reproductive endocrinologist.
What is an OBGYN Clinic?
- Yearly examinations and well-visits
- Baseline fertility tests
- Cervical, breast, ovarian, uterine, and vaginal cancer screening
- PCOS and other gynecological disorders
An OBGYN office is a good place to start when you first decide to start growing your family. They’re able to give you information on timing conception, discuss irregular menstrual cycles and help you learn how to track your most fertile time. If you are not getting pregnant in a given amount of time, (after one year of trying if you’re 35 years old or younger, after 6 months if you’re over the age of 35), you may want to discuss some basic testing, like bloodwork, to see if there is a bigger issue.
Some OBGYN offices are also able to start you on oral medications to help regulate your cycle or assist in ovulation. Likely, they will be the doctor who will refer or suggest seeing a fertility specialist if you are still having a difficult time becoming or staying pregnant.
What is a Fertility Clinic?
A fertility clinic helps people who are trying to get pregnant. At a fertility clinic, a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) can diagnose and treat infertility. A RE completes the same education and training as an OBGYN, then goes on to specialize in infertility and reproductive endocrinology.
Fertility clinics are not just for women. Testing and treatment are available for men, women, same-sex couples, and singles; anyone who would like to grow their family.
One of the firsts steps a RE will take is to try and determine the cause of infertility; sometimes testing can provide answers, and sometimes the cause is left unexplained. The RE will then propose fertility treatment(s) that they deem best for each specific situation.
- Testing to identify the cause of infertility includes:
- Ovulation tests and monitoring
- Blood work and hormone analysis
- Semen analysis
- Ovarian reserve testing
- Procedures to evaluate the condition of a women’s uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes
- Genetic testing
- Imaging (ultrasound)
- Infertility treatment
- Hormone therapy
- Ovulation stimulation
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Assistance with egg, sperm, or embryo adoption
- Assistance with donor egg, donor sperm or embryo donation
When fertility treatment is successful at helping someone get pregnant, the fertility clinic will continue to monitor the pregnancy for about 8-10 weeks. This includes testing hormone levels and ultrasounds. Around 8-10 weeks, the individual “graduates” from the fertility clinic and transitions to an OBGYN clinic for the remainder of the pregnancy.
What To Do When Trying to Conceive
When a couple is trying to conceive, it is not always clear whether they should go to an OBGYN clinic or a fertility clinic. The general rule of thumb is to see a fertility specialist after 12 months of trying naturally; this could mean going to your OBGYN first or going straight to a fertility clinic. You may also opt to bring it up at your next OBGYN appointment, even if it hasn’t quite been a full 12 months of trying. Many women choose to start at their OBGYN, then switch to a fertility clinic if needed.
In some cases, it may be wise for couples to go straight to a fertility clinic or take action sooner than 12 months. This applies to those who:
- Are over the age of 35
- Have a history of irregular menstrual cycles
- Have a pre-existing medical condition
- Have a male diagnosis or known sperm issues
- Have had more than one miscarriage
- Have had or have an STI
Don’t be ashamed of asking for help! One in six couples seek assistance from a fertility specialist to help them conceive. The most important thing we can emphasize is to do your research and find a doctor with the expertise you need.
It’s important to be an advocate for your own care. Infertility is a medical diagnosis and you know your body best. Ask questions and ask for help if you are not having luck trying on your own. If you are comfortable, reach out to friends or relatives and get a personal referral to someone who is trusted. You can also use online resources to help determine the best choice for you.
Researching your options, let alone making the final decision, can be overwhelming. If possible, we recommend researching the experience and expertise of the doctors, not just the clinic as a whole. This will hopefully give you a better idea of who you may like to work with, what services they offer, and if they provide the care you are looking for.
Check out our guide to preparing for your first fertility clinic appointment.