If you are currently pregnant, it might surprise you to hear that you should probably start thinking about choosing a pediatrician for your baby now. Babies born at a hospital usually get their first checkup with a pediatrician the day after they are born. That checkup is most often provided by the hospital’s staff pediatrician and you don’t need to worry about it. In some cases, your own family’s pediatrician may be the one to perform this exam in the hospital and you’ll need to provide contact information for your doctor. Be sure to find out what you need to do by asking your care provider or hospital maternity unit.
After that initial checkup, the standard schedule for doctor visits in the first year goes like this:
- First doctor visit happens when your baby is about one week old.
- One month
- Two months
- Four months
- Six months
- Nine months
- One year
That’s seven visits just for check-ups and vaccinations! If your baby needs to see the doctor because they are sick or have something else going on, you get to add to that number of visits. Because you will be seeing this care provider so often, it’s a great idea to choose well and to choose now. Some doctors have very full schedules and it can be hard to get the appointment times and days that you prefer, so finding that person now and getting your appointments scheduled is smart.
How Do You Choose a Pediatrician
Depending on where you live, there may be a lot of doctors to choose from and it can be difficult to sort through the options and pick the right one for you and your baby.
I like to recommend that people start by deciding on what kind of doctor they want to see. Most people choose a pediatrician. Pediatricians specialize in working with young people from birth through adolescence. There are only children being seen at a pediatrician’s office, so they have all the right small equipment for the job and often staff who are especially good with kids. A bonus is that they are usually fun and have cute decorations and toys for the benefit of the little people.
Other people might choose a family practice doctor. These providers work with people from birth through death. They often have children as patients, but see people of all ages. Their offices might not be geared towards children, but they do have everything they need to provide care to your young ones. Another benefit of establishing a relationship with a family practice doctor is that your whole family can see the same provider.
I personally started out with a pediatrician for my children, but when I had to choose a new practice because of a change in insurance, I decided to switch us all to a family practice. I really enjoy this, because our doctor knows us all, and everything is in one place. That makes things simpler for me.
Whatever you decide, the next step would be to find out who is in network with your insurance company. That will ensure that you get the best coverage.
Once you have that list, you may still have a lot to sort through, so think about these things:
- Where is the office located? When you have to make so many visits, it can start to feel inconvenient to drive across town, especially if you have a baby or toddler who doesn’t love being in the car for long periods of time.
- How is the parking situation? Is getting in and out of the office convenient and simple? It can be extra frustrating to have to park far away or in a big garage when you’re lugging around a big diaper bag, a baby, a stroller, etc.
- Are they taking new patients? Finding out now is a great idea because if you wait to establish care until your baby is born, you might be told that they are not taking new patients and you’ll need to start over.
- How far ahead do you have to schedule visits? If you’re a long distance planner, this might not matter to you. If you sometimes wait until later to schedule things, you might get disappointed when you’re told you’ll have to wait a month or more to be seen.
- Will you be able to see YOUR chosen doctor for most visits? Even sick visits? Some practices are small and it can be easy to schedule with your favorite provider, but others are very large and you may never get to see the doctor you thought you were choosing.
- Does your doctor have a partner for coverage when they’re away? If you need to see a doctor while your doctor is not available, who is there?
- Do they have in-house diagnostics? If your child needs something like an x-ray or blood work, are they able to handle that in the office or would you need to be sent somewhere else?
- Do they have long waiting room waits? Some care providers do a great job of ensuring that you rarely have to wait much before your appointment time, but others are chronically behind. This might start to matter a lot when you’re spending a lot of time there with a baby!
- Do they have separate waiting rooms for sick visits and well visits? If you’re just there for a check-up and a vaccination, it might be uncomfortable to be in a waiting room full of sick kids.
- How are you treated while you’re there? You should feel comfortable with the staff at your doctor’s office. Are people friendly? Do they listen well? Do you feel like they are knowledgeable and competent? Are they also flexible and willing to seek outside advice when they’re not sure about something? Do they take your concerns seriously? I definitely switched away from a doctor who made me feel like I was a silly and overly worried first time mom. I wasn’t, and I found a doctor who took my concerns seriously. Your parental intuitions matter, and you and your doctor can be a great team when you can work together!
- Do your philosophies align? You don’t have to agree on everything, but there are often many different ways to handle issues with your children. You might not feel comfortable giving certain medications or agreeing to certain procedures if there are alternatives. You can find a doctor who will either agree with you or at least respect your preferences. That’s important.
When my first baby was about 9 months old, our pediatrician started asking me when I would begin weaning her off of breastmilk. She was doing great, I was very comfortable with breastfeeding at that point, and I knew the latest recommendations said that breastfeeding for two years is ideal! When I told her that I didn’t intend to stop breastfeeding anytime soon, I felt very judged, so I found a new doctor who celebrated my choices and made me know that I was doing a great job.
Doctors are Not Always Experts in Parenting
It’s also important to remember that although doctors are very important for your child’s health, they are not necessarily the right person for every job. They are not necessarily parenting experts who can tell you the best ways to get your child to sleep better or eat better or to ask about discipline. They often get asked for this kind of advice, however, and will probably try to do their best to help. But it’s good to remember that they are offering opinions and that there are many right ways to parent a child. It can be reassuring when you and your doctor are on the same page.
It is very appropriate to call different providers and ask these questions. Doctors often get requests for appointments for interviews or a call for general information about their practice. You will not be the first parent to do this. It’s a great way to find the right care provider on your first try, and could potentially save you time and frustration in the future.
I like to think of it like choosing a stylist to cut my hair. There are so many ways to cut and style hair well, but only a few that I like for myself! If I get a haircut that I don’t like, or have a hard time getting an appointment time, or don’t like the smell in the salon, I find someone else to do it next time. I consider the whole experience when choosing a professional for this job, and we should do the same when making decisions about healthcare.