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Obstetrics and gynecology were recognized medical disciplines in the United States by the middle of the 19th century. However, these two fields developed separately throughout history and differently across cultural boundaries.

Female midwives were the first individuals to perform obstetric work. It was not until the 17th century that European physicians became involved in childbirth. Aristocrats and royalty allowed these physicians to attend the births of their children, and eventually the practice spread to the middle classes.

Gynecology evolved separately from obstetrics but was practiced in Greco-Roman civilization and possibly earlier. Despite their separate early histories, the similar nature of obstetrics and gynecology forced the disciplines to merge. Both fields were advanced by the invention of the forceps used during delivery, anesthesia, and antiseptic methods used during gynecologic surgery and childbirth. The method of cesarean section as an alternative to natural childbirth was also a major advancement in early medical practice.

Fertility, the promotion of healthy births, and prenatal care define the scope of obstetric and gynecologic advances now seen in the 21st century. Hormonal contraceptive pills were introduced in the 1950s and helped to regulate women's fertility, while the development of amniocentesis and ultrasound allowed for more accurate prenatal diagnosis of birth defects. New fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization have also expanded the possibilities for successful childbirth.

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