Choosing a pediatrician is one of the most important decisions a parent can make. Your baby will see the doctor a lot in their first year of life. After an initial checkup 24 to 48 hours after you give birth, they'll attend at least eight wellness visits where the pediatrician will assess their progress, administer vaccinations, and advise you on proper care and next steps.
This doesn't include the many sick visits you'll also have to make. What this means is that you're going to have a very close relationship with your doctor, so you want them to be the very best. We break down how to choose a pediatrician so that your baby will be well taken care of throughout the next 18 years!
Step-By-Step Guide to Choosing a Pediatrician
Parents can find a pediatricician by following six simple steps. These can help you find the best fit for you and your baby.
- Ask Friends and Family for Recommendations: Reach out to anyone you know with children. Do they like their pediatrician? Why? Do they explain things in a way they understand? Do they seem rushed? And is there anything they do not like about them or their office? These questions can help you narrow down your search. (If you are having a boy, make a point to ask other boy parents about their circumcision experience. Since the pediatrician will conduct this task, you will want to ensure that the person you choose is skilled at this procedure.)
- Do Some Research: Are the doctors you are considering recommended online? Read some reviews and look at their posted credentials.
- Call the Office: Once you select a few top candidates, give the offices a call in the early or mid-morning. How long do you sit on hold? When a staff member answers, are the friendly? This is also a great time to inquire about if they are taking new patients and the insurance plans they accept.
- Schedule an Interview: If they are taking on new patients and you and your partner's insurances are accepted, ask to set up an appointment to talk with the pediatrician. This can normally be done in the office or over the phone.
- Drop By the Office: If you like what the doctor had to say, swing by the office to take a look at the facility. While you won't be able to see the patient rooms, check out the location, the waiting room, and the staff.
- Inform a Doctor of Your Decision: Choose your doctor! Once you find the best person for your family, call the office and let them know you want them to be your child's physician. Make sure to inquire about any paperwork that you need to complete before giving birth.
When to Find a Pediatrician
Nine months seems like a long time, but with the amount of prep you have to do before your sweet baby arrives, it's best to get certain tasks done quickly. Finding a pediatrican for your newborn can be done in advance. In fact, parents-to-be should aim to find their pediatrician three to five months before their baby arrives, making this a second trimester task.
Additionally, while recommendations are extremely important, parents should always talk to the doctor before selecting them as their child's pediatrician.
Remember, what's ideal for one parent may not be right for another. This means that you should give yourself time to interview a handful of physicians so that you can make an informed choice that is best for you and your baby.
Questions to Ask the Pediatrician to Help You Choose the Best Care
Once you get recommendations for the best and brightest doctors are in your region, you need to find the right one for you. Parents-to-be can request an appointment to talk with each doctor and get questions answered before selecting their child's physician. Here are some of the top questions to ask during these conversations.
1. Are You Taking New Patients?
If the doctor isn't taking new patients, then there is no point in continuing the conversation. This should always be your first question to office staff.
2. Do You Take My Insurance Plan?
Again, if the doctor doesn't take your insurance, then your child's care is going to become quite expensive. It is always best to find a doctor in your network.
People lose their jobs when they least expect it. If both you and your partner work, confirm that the office takes both of your insurance plans.
3. Can You Talk About Your Experience?
To become a pediatrician, a doctor must complete medical school, go through residency, and become licensed with the state. Without these things, they can't hold the title. What parents need to inquire about is the doctor's additional qualifications and experience. Specific questions to ask include:
- Where did you go to school?
- Do you have an M.D. or D.O.? (A M.D. practices traditional medicine whereas a D.O. tends to take a more holistic approach to medicine.)
- Are you board certified?
- Do you have any sub-specialties?
- How long have you been practicing?
- Do you have kids of your own?
This last question matters because once you've experienced being a parent, you have a better understanding of how other parents think. A doctor with kids knows your biggest worries and fears, because they have experienced them themselves. Most importantly, they have gone through the regular struggles that parents face everyday. This makes them more empathetic and more willing to listen. They can also provide better solutions to problems that they had to maneuver themselves.
4. Do You Work in a Group or Do You Own a Solo Practice?
You can have the best doctor in the world, but if they are unavailable, then your child will not receive the care they need. Doctors take sick days and vacations, just like the rest of us. By choosing a physician who works in a practice, you are more likely to see a doctor the day that your child gets sick. During the interview, ask if the other doctors in the practice will see your child if they are out for the day.
If you decide to go with a doctor in a solo practice, make sure that they have a nurse practitioner or a substitute doctor that fills in when they are gone.
5. What Are Your Office Hours and Availability?
Most doctor's offices are open for 8AM to 5PM Monday through Friday. However, many close early on Fridays, making it harder to get an appointment if your child gets sick at the end of the week. Others take a lunch break each day where no staff is in the office. These details can limit your doctors availability.
Other important questions to ask include:
- Do you schedule same day appointments when a child is sick?
- What are your normal wait times?
- Can I speak with a nurse over the phone or over a patient portal if an appointment isn't available?
- Is there an option to come in early for well checks with my newborn?
- Do you offer weekend services?
- Where can I go if your office is closed and my child is sick? Do you have a walk-in clinic that you are affiliated with?
6. Where Are You Located and Do You Have Multiple Locations?
Location matters when your child is sick. Once you have a child, you suddenly realize how tedious it is to cart them anywhere, especially when they are ill. Having an office nearby can ensure that you can get to the office quickly when an emergency arises.
Also, some doctors who work for university health systems have different offices that they work in on different days. This can be an inconvenience if you're not located near one of their offices so it is important to inquire about this in advance.
7. Do You Have a Lab on Site?
The last thing any parent wants to do when their child is sick or injured is to have to travel to multiple locations. Thus, parents should always ask what services are available at the office.
- Do you have a lab?
- Can you do bloodwork and urinalysis on site?
- Can you do x-rays?
- Do you have an ultrasound?
- Can you do bracing on minor breaks and sprains?
When you have to go to another facility for these services, you will likely also have to pay an additional co-pay. This can add up quickly, making a lab on-site a very convenient quality to look for in a pediatrician.
8. Do You Have an After-Hours Nurse Line?
It's amazing how horrible children's timing can be - they always seem to get sick minutes after the pediatrician's office closes. For these common occurences, a nurse line is an amazing resource! This allows worried parents to talk to a trained professional over the phone and recieve medical advice the moment they need it.
9. What Is Your Stance on Vaccinations?
Many parents don't realize that some offices require that their patients get vaccinated. Other offices have no requirements whatsoever.
If you are pro-vaccination, finding an office that promotes this practice can ensure that your child is not exposed to dangerous illnesses in the waiting room. Conversely, if you are against vaccinating your child, you want to find a facility that respects your decision.
10. Are You Affiliated With a Hospital?
If you want the pediatrician to do an initial newborn checkup at the hospital or conduct the circumcision, they must be affiliated with the hospital you give birth in. If they are not, then you will likely have an additional check-up in their office as soon as you are discharged from the hospital.
Additionally, if your pediatrician is affiliated with a hospital, it can make emergency room visits much easier. And while you may be thinking that your child will never end up in the ER, I can tell you that accidents happen, severe illnesses occur, and congenital conditions can arise well after your baby is born. By selecting a doctor with an affiliation, the ER can easily access all of their records and ensure that they get the best care without the worry of remembering important details in a stressful moment.
11. What Are Your Views on Breastfeeding and Formula?
Breastfeeding brings a lot of opinions. Parents-to-be should look for offices who support their feeding decisions and have resources to help them better facilitate their method of choice. If you plan to breastfeed, also make sure to ask:
- Do you have a lacatation consultant on staff if I find myself struggling?
- Can you advise me on breastfeeding methods and ways to increase milk supply if my baby isn't feeding well?
- Do you believe that breastfeeding is best or that a fed baby is best? If I decide that breastfeeding is not working out, will you support me in this decision?
12. How Do You Feel About Circumcisions?
For the parents expecting a boy, a circumcision is another decision that is best made prior to giving birth. If you intend to have one, ask the doctor if they normally do the procedure and discuss the method that they use. This can help you fully understand the procedure and the recovery before you find yourself in a daze after giving birth.
Find a Pediatrician by Focusing on What Is Best for Your Family
Want to know how to choose a pediatrician? Find the physician that will provide the care that is best for your baby and has the services that best suit your needs. This is a very personal choice so don't feel pressured to simply choose the same pediatrician as a family member or friend.
Remember - it is normal for your child to have up to 12 colds a year. Yes, you read that right. Add in tummy bugs, ear infections, and other ailments, and suddenly, you are spending a whole lot of time with this person. In other words, start early and take your time making the decision!