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Obstetrics is a medical speciality which deals with the female reproductive tract and the embryo or fetus  during pregnancy, birth and immediately after birth. A specialist in the field is an obstetrician. Most obstetricians are also qualified in the speciality of gynecology and are often called "OB/GYNs" as a result.  

Until the 18th century, pregnancy and childbirth were exclusively within the province of women practicing as midwives. It was only at that time that men started to apply surgical techniques to childbirth, such as the use of forceps during delivery. It was also during this period that births started to take place in hospitals rather than the woman's home. This further brought the medical profession into the process.  

However, many midwives resisted the introduction of men into the process, and many physicians saw the developing field as beneath them and refused to practice in it. As such, clinical practice in the field stagnated. 

By the 1880s, it was clear that the field had been left behind by what was now developing into modern medicine.  As such, the introduction of such new medical techniques as the use of anesthesia to deal with difficult births began to be applied to the field.  In addition, developments in the understanding of the role of hygiene to prevent the spread of disease resulted in a rapid drop of maternal mortality in hospitals where sanitary precautions became routine. The Cesearean section started to become a routine and successful procedure.  

In modern practice, obstetrical care starts almost from the moment pregnancy is confirmed. The developing fetus is routinely monitored, as is the health of the mother. Mothers are also more likely to give up behaviors that can be harmful, such as the use of tobacco and alcohol. As a result, maternal mortality has plunged to negligible levels in most of the developed world, where the chance of deathof the mother from complications of a pregnancy or birth is well under 1%.

Obstetrica at Wikipedia