Selecting a Pediatrician: Who Will Care for Your Newborn?
Who will care for your newborn? The obvious answer is you. But beyond the nurturing that you and your partner will provide, there’s another person who will be instrumental in your baby’s well being from the moment you first hold your little one in your arms — a pediatrician.
You and your baby will probably visit this doctor more often during the first year than at any other time. For pregnant women, it’s important to select a pediatrician before the delivery so your newborn can receive care from a person you trust after delivery. The pediatrician will begin caring for your baby in the hospital, just like your obstetrician cares for you during the birth experience, with the first priority being to evaluate your baby’s initial health and early progress.
As time goes on, you’ll look to your chosen pediatrician to manage your baby’s wellness exams and sick visits, administer vaccines, prescribe medications, detect problems such as developmental disorders and behavioral difficulties, and provide ongoing guidance regarding feeding and care. With all that’s at stake, it’s extremely important to find the right person with whom you feel comfortable forming a lasting doctor-patient relationship. A doctor that focuses on infant health and caring for kids each day has a leg up when it comes to expertise on children’s medical issues.
The When, Where and Why Behind the Pediatrician Search
Some parents know which doctor or practice they want caring for their baby before they even conceive. But many start the search during pregnancy and arrive at a decision when they’re seven or eight months along. Yuri Cook, M.D., F.A.A.P., who practices at Raintree Healthcare and has spent 16 years on the medical staff in the Pediatrics Department and Newborn Nursery at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Allen, advises parents-to-be to allow plenty of time to search for a pediatrician.
“A pediatrician may be selected at any time, however, most parents will find it more settling to have a pediatrician chosen prior to the baby’s birth,” Cook said. “Making a decision well before labor and delivery allows for an informed choice and time to establish a rapport. It’s a good idea to start the search process for a pediatrician about four months before your due date and to have one lined up by 28 to 34 gestational weeks, if possible.”
There are many ways to begin your search for the right pediatrician. Cook suggests using a list of preferred providers from your insurance company as a good starting place. Friends, relatives, neighbors and a woman’s obstetrician or midwife are also good initial referral sources. Additionally, Cook recommends scheduling interviews with more than one pediatrician to ensure a well-considered decision in the long run.
“It might seem unnecessary but it is worth taking even 10 minutes to meet in person with a doctor. Effective communication with a pediatrician is critical, as parents will spend a good deal of time asking questions in the office over the life of a child. Therefore, finding a doctor with whom you ‘gel’ can be very important,” Cook added.
“Our office, like many, offers a scheduled Meet the Doctor night where prospective parents can come to meet our providers, hear about our practice and ask questions. The group format tends to work very well, and we leave time afterwards to meet with parents if they have particular questions they wish to ask individually.”
Hospitals and medical schools also provide referrals to pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers referrals to certified practitioners on its website. Certification by the AAP means that the doctor has graduated from an accredited medical school, completed an accredited residency program and passed the board exam to practice pediatrics.
Questions to Get You to ‘Who’
Even if there’s only one name on your list of potential pediatricians, it’s a good idea to meet in person and learn about their practice and philosophy. The following questions and considerations should help you in your decision making:
- How long has the doctor been practicing in the community?
- What hospital(s) is he/she affiliated with?
- What is his/her schedule for well-baby checkups?
- What are the practice office and on-call hours?
- What hospital does he/she admit to in emergencies?
- How does the office handle after-hours emergencies?
- Who fills in when the doctor is away?
- Will a nurse take and address calls and concerns when the doctor is unavailable?
- Is there a separate waiting area for sick and healthy children?
- What are the doctor’s views on issues such as breastfeeding, bottle feeding, circumcision, immunizations and the use of antibiotics?
- Does the practice accept my insurance plan or make other payment arrangements?
People look for different things in their pediatricians, and what’s most important for you may not even be on someone else’s radar. Rather than just gathering names from referral sources, use the recommendations as a chance to also learn about a doctor’s demeanor with parents and children, willingness to answer questions/discuss problems/listen to concerns, the helpfulness of the office staff and even wait times upon arrival. This will all help you as you begin to forge a relationship with your baby’s pediatrician that should last through the bumps, bruises and late-night fevers to come.
To find a pediatrician near you or to create a downloadable Pediatrics provider directory, visit TexasHealth.org.