During your baby’s first year, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time with your child’s healthcare provider. Take steps before your baby arrives to choose a doctor who you feel comfortable with and trust.
When should you start the process?
Anywhere between one and three months before your due date is an ideal time to start shopping around for a pediatrician or a family physician. Try not to wait until the last minute.
“Once you go to the hospital, there’s a lot going on. You’ll be seeing a lot of doctors. You’ll be going through labor. It’s not something you want to decide off-the-cuff,” says pediatrician Aaron Mayer.
When you arrive at the hospital to deliver your baby, you’ll be asked who you’ve selected for your child’s primary care doctor. They will then notify your baby’s physician, who will provide a physical examination of your infant within 24 hours after delivery.
Pediatrician or a family physician?
Both practitioners are trained to provide quality healthcare for your family. Your choice will most likely boil down to personal preference and the rapport you have with a particular physician. Here are the primary differences between the two types of physicians:
A family practice doctor is trained to provide healthcare to individuals at all stages of life, from newborn to senior. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, family physicians train for three years in real-life clinical settings and are trained in all areas of medicine ranging from pediatrics and internal medicine to obstetrics. Physicians should be board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and licensed in the state in which they practice.
A pediatrician specializes in childhood conditions, diseases, and treatment for patients from newborn to age 18. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), following medical school, a pediatrician-in-training completes three or more years of courses focused entirely on pediatrics. Seek a pediatrician who is licensed and has obtained the designation of Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP). This means they are board certified in pediatrics and adhere to the AAP’s standards and guidelines.
Where to begin?
“Honestly, I think consulting with friends and family is probably best. If your friends like their doctor, you are likely to find a good fit with them as well,” says pediatrician Kallie Foss.
Make sure the recommended physicians are part of your health insurance network. Also check out area hospital websites, which often feature doctors who are nearby and accepting new patients.
Schedule a prenatal visit
Once you’ve got a list of two or three physicians, call and schedule a prenatal visit to help you get a feel for their personality and office environment. While some physicians may prefer to do a phone consultation, a face-to-face appointment can help you get a sense of the office and nursing staff. Are they courteous, warm, and helpful? What is the overall feel of the clinic? Is it kid-friendly, clean, and welcoming?
“You don’t really know if the physician’s personality meshes with your family unless you speak with them in person,” Mayer says. “It’s important to do prenatal visits to see if the way they act, the way they treat you, and the environment of the clinic fits with what you want for your family.”
Make a list of questions
Now that you have prenatal appointments lined up, consider what issues are most important to you. For example, you might ask:
- Who will see my baby in the hospital?
- How soon after we leave the hospital should we see you?
- What is the schedule for well-child checks and immunizations?
- What can I expect during well-child checks?
- How long are the typical wait times at appointments?
- How do you handle after-hours calls?
- Which urgent care do you recommend?
- What’s your availability for last minute appointments?
- What kind of acute care do you provide?
- Are you open to natural methods/supplements for certain health conditions?
- Can you diagnose learning disabilities?
- Will you give me suggestions for child discipline and behavior, if I ask?
“If you’re having a boy, you might want to also ask about circumcision,” Foss says. “It would also be good to let the doctor know if you have had any complications during the pregnancy that may affect baby after he or she is born.”
Evaluate the visit
After the appointment, reflect on how you felt about the doctor and the practice, and discuss it with your partner or trusted loved one.
- Were your most pressing questions and concerns addressed?
- Did you feel comfortable?
- Did the doctor support or respect your opinion regarding issues that matter to you?
- Did you feel listened to?
- Did you feel rushed?
- What was the office and support staff like?
- What was the clinic environment like?
- Was the location convenient?
Need to break-up?
If over time, you become dissatisfied with your child’s physician or you need to switch providers due to changes in insurance or a relocation to a new community, make sure you have your child’s medical records, including immunization records, transferred to the new physician that you select.
Most of all, take the time to partner with a healthcare practitioner who will listen to your concerns, offer sound advice and options, and provide quality, compassionate healthcare throughout your child’s development. You’ll feel more supported and well-informed as you go about the business of raising a healthy, thriving youngster from babyhood and beyond.
Many people, including physicians, have strong opinions about issues like breastfeeding and circumcision. Choose a physician who will support you or at least respect your personal views regarding issues that are important to you.