Choosing a pediatrician for your family

If your due date is drawing near, you're probably wondering how medical care will change for you and your baby once you've delivered. So far, you've been working with a family physician, obstetrician or midwife, but will your child need a different type of doctor to stay in good health? If they do, how do you know which doctor will fulfill their needs?

You've probably noticed over the last several months that there's a wide variety of medical professionals that are in some way related to pregnancy and baby care, and it can be tough to decide which ones will bring the greatest benefit to your family. Find out why many parents favor a specialist in pediatric medicine for their child's medical care and how to decide which doctor is the right choice for you and your baby.


What is a Pediatrician?

A pediatrician specializes in child health care, from birth through adolescence. Like any other physician, they've undergone several years of medical school to earn their doctoral degree, but they've also completed three years of pediatric residency on top of that. A certified pediatrician must take exams every seven years to ensure they keep on top of changes in children's health care, including the findings of recent studies and technological advancement.

Although they do have some things in common, a pediatrician is unlike a neonatologist in that they are not confined to emergency situations or special medical cases. Since their expertise is relatively broad, they are more closely related to family physicians, who are trained to care for patients of all ages; in fact, many families choose to stick with their family doctor rather than find a pediatrician for their new baby. The choice will depend on your current relationship with your physician and the degree of care your baby needs now and may need in the future.

Criteria for Choosing a Pediatrician

Since nobody can truly predict when a baby will arrive, it's best to begin your search for a pediatrician well before your due date -- the six month mark is a good time. Your first source of pediatrician information is your managed health care plan (if you have one): your plan will likely list the names of participating doctors that you can choose for your child. After you've checked with your health care plan, start asking friends and family for referrals, and then check in with the American Academy of Pediatrics, or a comparable association. The more you dig, the better your chances of finding a doctor you can trust to provide your baby with the best child health care.

Once you've narrowed down your list of candidates, draft a list of questions for the interview. Consider things like:

  • Is this a group practice, or do you attend to all your patients all the time?
  • What are the office hours?
  • Which hospitals is the doctor affiliated with?
  • How big is the support staff? How often would I be able to get in touch with someone?
  • What are the payment policies?
  • How are emergencies handled?

You can probably come up with several questions of your own, so jot them down as you think of them in order to be prepared when you begin the interview. Experience and expertise are important qualities in a pediatrician, but remember that personality is also vital to the relationship. If you and your child feel comfortable with the doctor, there's a better chance that you'll get the most out of the medical care and advice the pediatrician will offer.