Specialists in women and babies

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists was founded in Chicago in 1951, the latest in a line of associations that has sought to serve the organizational needs of specialists in medicine for women.

By the time the organization was founded, the controversy over whether the two specialties should be practiced separately or together had been largely resolved, which reflected an improvement of the status of obstetrics. (One 19th century proponent of keeping the two disciplines together had characterized obstetrics as "the portal to the temple of gynecology.")

Obstetricians are not the only doctors who deliver babies — family physicians attend about 20 percent of births nationally, and midwives, mostly nurse-midwives, handled about 8 percent of births in 2004. Still, obstetricians deliver the majority of American babies.

ACOG membership is voluntary. The group, now headquartered in Washington, D.C., has 52,000 members, more than 90 percent of board-certified OB-GYNs. Important ACOG activities include the annual meeting, continuing education and the publication of the monthly journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the so-called Green Journal.

Some of  ACOG's members are specialists in maternal-fetal medicine, gynecologic oncology, reproductive endocrinology, and other areas.

The Pregnancy Meeting

The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine held its annual conference in Chicago last week, and I went to a few sessions. The physicians, who specialize in the health of mothers and their babies, spent up to six days in meetings, so I got a canape-size serving compared to theirs.

Research teams from all over the country, and from other countries as well, reported on their investigations into conditions that jeopardize mothers' and babies' health in pregnancy.  Several important findings came out of the meeting. Here are just a few:

* A simple new urine test with a cool name, the "Congo Red Dot Test," appears to be able to predict and diagnose preeclampsia, a condition that can kill mothers and babies, cause birth defects, and is a major contributor to pre-term birth. A research team from the Yale University School of Medicine found that the test accurately predicted preeclampsia in 347 women in their study. Preeclampsia symptoms include hypertension and protein in the urine. The condition affects 5 to 10 percent of pregnancies. It is commonly treated by delivering the baby.

* One of every three pre-term births is caused by a "silent" infection inside the uterus. Now it appears some women and babies are genetically more susceptible to inflammatory infections, according to a study led by Roberto Romero MD, Chief of the Perinatology Research Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The study won an award from the March of Dimes, a nonprofit group that works to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

At the SMFM meeting, the Yale U. School of Medicine also presented the results of a couple of other investigations that might lead to a decrease in preterm births as well.