After you process the initial joy of learning that you are pregnant, you will soon realize that you have many decisions to make for you and your baby. These choices may include picking baby names, finding an OB-GYN physician to take care of you during your pregnancy, deciding which hospital to deliver your baby, and choosing a pediatrician for your family. While many decisions can seem overwhelming, picking a pediatrician does not have to be if you know what you are looking for in a doctor.
Talk to other parents about recommendations for a pediatrician.
If you are beginning your search for a pediatrician, talk to your friends and family members that are parents. See if any particular names pop up repeatedly, either positively or negatively. Remember to keep an open mind, though. One person’s not-so-great experience with a pediatrician in the midst of many other positive recommendations may be a result from that particular family and pediatrician not being a good fit. The reverse is also true; one family’s amazing pediatrician may not be exactly what you are looking for. But at the very least, talking to other people is a starting point for your search.
Plan to meet the pediatrician…before your baby is born.
After you have made your list of potential pediatricians, the next step is to meet them in person. Many pediatric practices will host open houses for new parents, or will schedule prenatal consultations. By meeting with a pediatrician, you will be able to see if his/her beliefs, values, and attitudes regarding pediatric health care are in line with your own. You can decide if you like him/her or not…plain and simple! You and your baby will have at least 10 well-baby visits to the pediatrician in the first two years of life (not even counting sick visits!), so it helps if you like your pediatrician. Ask the pediatrician if he/she is pediatric board-certified (taken and passed the pediatric board exam) or board-eligible (preparing to take the pediatric board exam).
When you visit the pediatrician’s office, you will also be able to meet the front desk staff and nurses too. Remember that these are the people who are the “front-line” for the pediatrician’s office, and you usually be talking to them first if your baby is sick and you have questions, or if you are trying to schedule a last-minute appointment for your sick child. See if you get a good vibe from them or not.
Learn the logistical information about your pediatrician and the practice.
Find out if your pediatrician works alone, or if he/she is in a group practice. If it is a group practice, try to meet the other pediatricians too, because they are the ones who will be covering for your doctor if yours is out of town, on vacation, or sick (yes, doctors get sick, too). After your baby is born in the hospital, ask your doctor if he/she will come to the hospital, or if a pediatric hospitalist (a pediatrician who only works in the hospital, like myself) will see the baby. I think that information is good to know beforehand, so that you are informed and there are no surprises.
Ask the pediatrician what happens after the office is closed, such as who will answer the phone calls (nurse or a physician). Find out if the practice has any evening hours, or if they are open during the weekend at all. Kids get sick at any time of day or night, so it is helpful to know the availability and accessibility of your pediatrician.
Discuss vaccines with the pediatrician.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies & children receive their vaccinations based on a schedule that has been created by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Most pediatric practices also follow this recommended vaccine schedule, but a few pediatric practices may allow parents to propose their own vaccine schedule, delay certain vaccines, or refuse vaccines altogether. There are some pediatric practices that will ask a family to seek care from another pediatrician if they do not choose to follow the recommended vaccine schedule, because it is unfair to their other patients who may be too young to receive certain immunizations, but also have to sit in the same waiting room as older unimmunized children. As a parent, you need to know what the pediatric practice’s stance is on vaccines in order to best protect your child. And while we are discussing vaccines, don’t forget to get your Tdap vaccine (after baby’s delivery, but before you leave the hospital) to prevent pertussis/whooping cough!
Ask the pediatrician about his/her thoughts on breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding has many benefits for mother and baby. If breastfeeding is something that you are interested in, ask the pediatrician what his/her views are in regards to breastfeeding. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months and continued breastfeeding when solid foods are introduced up to age 1 year. In your search for pediatricians, you may find some that completely support breastfeeding, while others may not support it as strongly. Breastfeeding can be tough, so you want to have some idea of what kind of support you will have from your pediatrician. Some pediatric offices even have a lactation consultant on staff. If yours doesn’t, you can always find help from a lactation consultant at our Orlando Health Maternal Education Center (321.843.2584).
Above all, even with all of these tips and recommendations, trust your gut feeling when you meet a potential pediatrician. This physician will take care of your baby, answer your questions, calm your fears, and help guide you in your new journey of becoming a parent. And even after your baby is born and if you realize that the pediatrician you chose may not exactly be the best fit for your family, it’s okay to change your mind and transfer care to another pediatrician. The most important thing is to have a healthcare provider that you trust and feel comfortable with in caring for your family.