The “to-do list” during pregnancy can seem daunting at times. It can be easy to procrastinate on certain things, such as stocking up on diapers. But there is one to-do item you shouldn’t put off until the last minute – finding a pediatrician.
There's a lot to consider when choosing your baby's doctor. This provider will evaluate your child’s growth and development, administer vaccines, diagnose ear infections, and everything in between over the next 18 years.
You'll want to find a provider who makes you feel comfortable and makes it easy to get appointments. At the same time, you want the best pediatrician for your child. With so many criteria, it's prudent to start looking for a pediatrician at least three months before your due date. This window gives you time to meet various providers and choose one who is taking new patients.
So, where do you begin your search? Many expecting parents start by asking friends for recommendations – that's what I did. You can also search the web for "pediatricians near me" or join a parents' group on social media to get suggestions.
As you work your way through your list of recommended providers, consider these five factors when making your final decision.
1. What type of provider do you want?
Pediatricians specialize in caring for children from birth until adulthood. But some parents opt for a family doctor or nurse practitioner instead. These providers can take care of the whole family, from babies to seniors. Pediatricians and family physicians have the same amount of clinical training, but pediatricians focus solely on children’s health needs.
You also may notice that some doctors have an M.D. (doctor of medicine) while others have a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy). M.D.s study medicine in a traditional way while D.O.s take a more holistic, or “whole body,” approach to medicine. Training requirements are the same for both types of doctor, and both are equally qualified to care for your child.
No matter what type of provider you choose, make sure they are “board certified.” This means the provider has completed medical school, residency, and a series of rigorous exams set by the governing body in their chosen field of medicine, such as pediatrics.
2. Does the provider share your views?
Everyone has their own beliefs when it comes to health and wellness. You'll want to find a provider who is on the same page as you regarding issues that are important to you, such as:
- Alternative medicine techniques
- Antibiotic use
Doctors vary on how much they will press an issue. Ask the providers on your list about their philosophies before you make your choice.
3. Location, location, location
The location of your pediatrician's office is very important. In your baby’s first year alone, you’ll visit at least six times for well-baby checkups – and more often if your baby gets sick in between!
The last thing you want to do is leave work, pick up your child, then have to drive him or her 30 minutes to get care. Choosing a pediatrician close to your home or workplace will make these visits fit more easily into your busy life.
4. How easy is it to get appointments?
It's tough to rely on a pediatrics office that can't get you in when your child needs care. Ask the office manager these questions:
- Are evening or weekend hours available?
- Does the office offer telemedicine or virtual care?
- Can you make an appointment on short notice for a sore throat or ear infection?
- Who can you call if your child gets sick outside normal office hours?
- Can you email or text the provider with questions?
- How will you get test results and follow-up health information?
- Who will see your child if his/her primary provider is unavailable?
The more you learn, the easier it will be to make your decision.
5. Does the office run smoothly?
While visiting a pediatrician, get an idea of how his or her office works. Look for a clean, child-friendly waiting area and staff who are polite in person and on the phone. I know people who have loved their pediatrician but left because of how the office was run.
Find out how responsive they are. If your child is sick, you'll want to be able to get through to someone or have your message returned promptly if you leave one.
Ultimately, you have to feel comfortable with whomever you choose to care for your child. This provider will be seeing your child for a long time, so you want to find the best match.
If you don't click after a few visits, you can move on. However, by putting in the work up front, you may be able to avoid issues and find a pediatrician your family will appreciate for years to come.