Expecting a baby is a wonderful, exciting experience. Some parents-to-be can feel overwhelmed about getting important things done before the baby arrives. Setting up the crib, knowing how to secure a car seat and buying feeding supplies are just a few things to prepare for. Finding the right doctor for your baby is another important thing to do before the baby is born.
Well Visits to the Pediatrician
The pediatrician, a doctor who specializes in the care of children, becomes an important part of your healthcare team. It is important to take your child to the pediatrician when he or she is sick but also when your child is healthy or feeling well. These well visits are a time for the pediatrician to assess the growth and development of your child, offer instructions and guidance on new baby issues, and discuss parenting topics such as sleeping, feeding, developmental milestones, and safety.
You and the pediatrician will likely have a lot of contact in the early years of your baby’s life. In your baby’s first year, there will be many visits to the pediatrician’s office, including at least 7 for well visit check-ups. It is recommended that well visits occur at ages one week, one month, two months, four months, six months, nine months and 12 months. Additional visits may be scheduled as needed depending on your child’s health. After the first year, the baby will need to be seen at 15 months, 18 months, 24 months, 30 months, and then once a year starting at age 3.
Beginning Your Search
Some people start looking for a pediatrician soon after becoming pregnant while others wait until the last trimester. It is recommended that you start your search early enough so that you have enough time to make a decision. Month 4 or 5 into the pregnancy might be a good time. You can start by getting recommendations from your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN), family, friends or a trusted co-worker. Your health plan may also help you to locate pediatricians in your area. The American Academy of Pediatrics is another resource—click here to find a pediatrician or pediatric specialist in your area.
Choosing the Right Pediatrician
Once you have a list of recommendations, it is a good idea to set up interviews to see if they will be a good fit for you. There are different things to look for in the pediatrician. What you would want and find important in your pediatrician may not necessarily be important to others.
So now that you are scheduled to meet the pediatrician, how do you know what to ask? I and many pediatricians would give an overview of the most important topics. However, since not all do this, it is good to be prepared with questions.
Here is a list of important questions and topics to discuss:
General Office Questions
How many doctors are in the practice? Some parents prefer small practices while others prefer a large one.
Who handles and covers the on-call: the pediatrician or nurse? If the on-call pediatrician is not the pediatrician you usually see, will he/she be updated with your call or concern?
How are questions handled during the day, both urgent and non-urgent?
If the child is sick, how do you reach the doctor, and is the doctor easily accessible?
What are the office hours? Are there evening hours? This may be important to working parents. Are there weekend hours? Though we did not have weekend hours in my prior practice, at times (and if we were able), we would open the office rather than having to send them to the emergency room.
Is the office staff nice?
Is the office clean?
Are there separate waiting areas for sick and well children? How are newborns handled if there are sick children in the waiting room?
Was it hard to get an appointment for this interview? Did you feel rushed during the interview?
What hospital is the practice affiliated with? This is important to parents for several reasons. Within 24 hours of birth, all babies are examined by a pediatrician. If the pediatrician is affiliated with the hospital you are delivering at, he/she will visit you and examine the baby in the first day of life at the hospital. If the pediatrician is not affiliated with the hospital, the hospital’s staff pediatrician usually examines the baby. In that case, prior to discharge, you would need to call your pediatrician to set up the first check up within a few days after you leave the hospital. Also, if the ER is necessary at any point in your child’s life, many parents prefer to go to an ER at which their pediatrician is affiliated with.
Office Lab Work and Vaccines
What tests are done in the office?
What are the vaccination schedules? Does the doctor explain what shots are for and when they are given and if so, in a way you understand? Many pediatricians explain what shots are given at each well visit and inform of possible side effects. Also they will let you know what to expect at the next check-up. Some pediatricians give handouts or have a website with information.
What is the doctor’s background including medical school, training and sub-specialties (if any)?
What are the pediatrician’s views on breast feeding, circumcision, parenting topics, sleep, medicines and antibiotics, alternative medicines, vaccinations, etc.?
Did the pediatrician seem understanding to your questions?
Did you feel comfortable talking with him/her and feel like he/she is someone you can trust? Your pediatrician will be an integral part of your baby’s life and you want to feel comfortable asking anything. You want to know that he/she is truly interested in your child.
Did the pediatrician seem to really like children?
Did you understand the pediatrican or did he/she speak too fast or with too much medical terminology that you wouldn’t understand?
Did the pediatrican rush you?
Did you feel comfortable with his/her approach to care, policies, philosophy and practice?
As you review the list of questions above, think about and decide what is most important to you in a pediatrician. In the end, you want to get a feel for their personality, approach and philosophy and find someone you feel comfortable with and trust.
Alison Mitzner, MD is a board certified pediatrician and a Senior Director, Medical Oversight Lead in Worldwide Safety and Regulatory at Pfizer.
After reading this article, how likely are you to schedule an interview with a pediatrician for your new baby?