One of the big decisions facing expectant parents is who will provide care once their little one arrives. It’s important to find a doctor and practice that can meet your family’s needs. There are several things to consider when finding the right fit for your family.
When should I start looking?
Some families begin the process of choosing a pediatrician during the last three months of pregnancy. Meeting with a doctor and scheduling a visit before a child is born is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, especially for mothers-to-be who have a high-risk condition (such as gestational diabetes or hypertension) or are expecting multiples.
The prenatal visit is an opportunity to talk about the aspects of the pregnancy that are relevant to the newborn and for the doctor to gather information about genetic diseases in the family (conditions that can be passed from parents to a child). It’s also an opportunity for you to learn about the practice and get a sense of the provider’s communication style.
A prenatal visit is not absolutely necessary. Some details about the practice (hours, fees, policies) can be gathered online or from administrative staff.
What are important things to consider?
The practice’s location, the hours they’re open and how appointments are scheduled are all important to consider when making your decision. It’s also helpful to find out how the team answers questions – whether it’s by phone, through an online portal, or both.
When and how services like breastfeeding or subspecialist support are provided are important considerations as well. Here at CHoR, for example, we are fortunate to have breastfeeding support seven days a week in the hospital and five days a week in our clinic. Subspecialist support involves coordinating care with doctors that specialize in a specific medical area and we have more than 30 specialties under one roof with a single shared electronic health record.
What are important topics to discuss?
You may want to ask about the provider’s approach to vaccinations. Most pediatric providers recommend giving vaccines according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) schedule. If you have questions about the vaccine schedule or specific vaccines, a great resource is the Vaccine Education Center.
Another topic you may want to discuss is their approach to breastfeeding. Scientists agree that breastmilk is the best choice for infants, but there may be certain situations where breastfeeding is not safe, possible or preferred by the mother. Having in-person breastfeeding support available in the office can be an extremely helpful resource especially in the baby’s first few weeks of life. Lactation specialists can help mothers position their baby to make sure that the baby’s latch is correct and to prevent injury to the mother’s nipples.
A provider’s approach to prescribing antibiotics can also be important to parents. Some conditions, such as uncomplicated one-sided ear infections, can be managed with the “watchful waiting” approach – observing children to allow for spontaneous recovery without antibiotics. Learning about their antibiotic practices can help you find a provider whose approach matches your own.
What characteristics should I look for in a provider?
It is important to consider whether the doctor has a strong pediatric knowledge base and is able to explain complex scientific topics in understandable terms. It can also be helpful to know the doctor’s process for coordinating care with any subspecialists a child may need to see.
Bedside manner is important too. Is the doctor friendly and approachable? Do they make eye contact? Do they have personal knowledge of your child?
What else should I consider?
Life can be hectic when a child is sick or injured. Finding a practice with radiology (x-rays), lab testing capabilities and a pharmacy on-site can make those days easier as you may not need to travel to different locations for medicine or services. You may also be able to get answers more quickly.
Some practices have pediatric support staff like phlebotomists (specialists in drawing blood for medical testing) who have special training in working with kids. This can make a real difference when considering blood draws. Some practices also have kid-specific equipment that’s safer for children, such as lower-radiation CT scans.
While you can’t always be completely be prepared for everything a new baby will bring, knowing who’s on your team can be a huge help. Having a plan set for medical care can get your family off to a good start. We wish you all the best in this new step in life.
By Dr. Elizabeth Wolf, pediatrician