Admittedly, I got a late start looking for my baby's doctor. In fact, I waited until the day after my daughter Mirabel was born. We were living in Seattle only temporarily, so finding a pediatrician there hadn't seemed all that important. But even during that short time, we went for three well-baby visits. I'm thankful that my Seattle ob-gyn recommended a local pediatrician who answered all my questions and sat patiently as I thought up even more about life with a newborn.
I was lucky, but it would have been smarter to scope out the M.D. scene while I was pregnant. "It's important to have a doctor you've already met and feel comfortable with, because you have enough going on after a baby is born," says Evaline Alessandrini, M.D., a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Not only will you save yourself a hassle, you'll also protect your child's health. Babies who see the same doctor for their first six months are up to twice as likely to receive key tests before age 2, according to a study Dr. Alessandrini cowrote. The ideal time to start the search for a pediatrician is between 28 and 34 weeks into your pregnancy. The process may seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that you're not trying to find the Best Pediatrician in the World; you're looking for the best one for you and your child.
First, Check Them Out On Paper
One mom?s pick is sometimes another's pan, which is why you should gather three to six names from friends and coworkers. (Or try the American Academy of Pediatrics' listings at HealthyChildren.org.) Call your insurance company about any doctor you're interested in but don't see on the provider list, because lists change frequently.
Some parents prefer to make use of a family practice instead of a pediatric group so that everybody in the household can go to the same office, notes Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta. "Just make sure the family practice actually sees a lot of kids and babies and not mainly teenagers," Dr. Shu says. "Things change so much in pediatrics, and you'll want a doctor who's up-to-date on child care."
Some parents prefer to frequent a family practice instead of a pediatric group so that everybody in the household can go to the same office, notes Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta. "Just make sure the family practice actually sees a lot of kids and babies and not mainly teenagers," Dr. Shu says. "Things change so much in pediatrics, and you'll want a doctor who's up to date on child care."
Other parents opt for doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.'s), who practice a "whole person" approach to care. Like M.D.'s, D.O.'s attend a four-year medical college and have a variety of specialties. Nurse practitioners (N.P.'s), are another available option. N.P.'s have graduated from nursing school and gained board certification in a specialty. (They?re also known as advanced-practice nurses, or A.P.N.'s.) In many states, N.P.'s can even act as primary-care providers. "N.P.'s work under the guidance of a physician," Dr. Alessandrini says. You might have an easier time getting an appointment with an N.P. than with a pediatrician. (If you are considering a D.O. or N.P., make sure she did a residency or is board certified in pediatrics.)
It's also important to factor in the location of the doctor's office. Given how often you'll be schlepping there, you'll want an easy trip. And look into which hospitals your candidates are affiliated with; again, it's best to go with an institution that's both convenient and reputable.
Next, Check Them Out in Person
Whittle down your list and schedule face-to-face meetings with three or more of the doctors. Ask if the doctor charges for such a meeting; some do, and insurance probably won't cover the fee. A number of pediatricians hold monthly group meet-and-greets. Others have sessions at hospitals in conjunction with childbirth or breastfeeding classes.
By now you may be starting to form opinions on, say, breastfeeding and sleep training, and these topics can be great conversation starters. You can also ask what happens at the first well-baby visit and how the office operates day to day.
Keep in mind that many docs work only certain days, so chat with a few at the practice, because one of them could be your regular "alternate."
The most important thing: Do you and this doc hit it off? "You want a well-trained M.D.," Dr. Shu says, "but what really matters for most parents is his or her bedside manner."
Last, Watch the Doctor in Action
When you set up the prenatal visit, you can evaluate how the office works, including the all-important phone system. It's fine if assistants have to occasionally put you on hold for a long time; after all, emergencies do happen. Two mind-numbing delays in a row, however, are a bad sign.
Once you think you've found your doc, the true test is how she performs in real situations. Samantha Smeraglia, who lives in San Diego, found that her doctor went above and beyond when their 6-month-old daughter was diagnosed with a potentially serious genetic condition. "We were grateful when our pediatrician turned up at our first specialist appointment to see how we were doing," Smeraglia says.
In the waiting room, chat with other parents and ask what they like and dislike about the practice. Also, look around. Are there plenty of books or toys to distract children? You may have to wait on busy days; will you want to sit there?
Once you think you've found your doc, the true test is how she performs in real situations. Samantha Smeraglia, who lives in San Diego, appreciated that her doctor went above and beyond when her 6-month-old daughter was diagnosed with a potentially serious genetic condition. "We were grateful when our pediatrician turned up at our first specialist appointment to check in," Smeraglia says.
Of course, things don't always work out so smoothly. When Kristina Leyva, also of San Diego, noticed that her M.D. shrugged off her commitment to breastfeeeding once her baby was born, she knew the doc wasn't a good fit.
Unless a doctor makes a blatant error, though, give her a few visits before you switch. Decide it's a no-go? Simply call the office and ask them to transfer your records when you've found a new pediatrician.
"If your criticism is something the doctor could improve on, like 'Your waiting room got too full,' then it's helpful to tell him," Dr. Shu says. "But if you just didn't feel comfortable, move on. No one doctor is perfect for everybody."