Q: When should I start searching for a pediatrician, and what are the main things I should look for?
A: You should start looking for a pediatrician before your baby is born. It's best to start your search in the second trimester (between your own prenatal appointments, nursery decorating, and getting ready for maternity leave, you'll have enough on your plate later on as it is). Start by asking for referrals from your ob-gyn and friends or coworkers who have children--you'll probably find that moms have plenty of opinions about this! Location is one important factor. Keep in mind that you'll be seeing the doctor at least every other month for well-baby visits (also if your baby gets sick), so you'll want to use a practice that's convenient to your home, work or both. Your pediatrician is a major player in your family's life, so it's important to find a doctor whose personality meshes with yours. As a first-time parent, you're going to have tons of questions, and you should work with someone you'll feel comfortable asking anything. Office hours and availability are another thing. Is there a 24-hour emergency contact? There should be at least a nurse on call at all times with a back-up doctor if needed. Take the time to meet with several physicians and ask questions -- as many as you need to make a decision. Some large practices have regularly scheduled informational group sessions where you can meet all the doctors and learn about their policies and procedures. Other offices require you to set up a one-on-one appointment with the physician (some may charge a co-pay for this consult). It's a good idea to prepare a list of questions in advance, since it's easy to get sidetracked and forget about something that's important to you. This can also be helpful in comparing doctors later on. Here are the main things many parents inquire about (some you'll want to ask the doctor, others you'll just take notes on for yourself):- What are the practice's hours? Are early-morning, evening, or weekend appointments available? This is especially important for families in which both parents work. - What insurance does the practice take? Like we said, you're going to be there often, so an office that accepts your plan is key. Most practices can provide you with a list of the types of insurance they take. - If the doctor is part of a large practice, will you usually see him personally, or are you likely to get one of the other partners? - How long is the average well-baby visit? (It should be around 15 minutes). - What's the whole office vibe like? Does it feel old and stodgy or fresh and relaxed? Is the staff pleasant and helpful? Look around the waiting room. If it's overly crammed, the practice might be way too busy and you'll end up waiting too long for every appointment. - What happens if you have questions? Is a nurse or physician's assistant available to return your call promptly during business hours or at night? What's the average waiting time for a call to be returned? Be sure to get satisfactory answers here, since you will be calling a lot--and this can make or break your relationship with a pediatrician.- Is the doctor objective on issues like circumcision, immunizations, breastfeeding, and the use of medications? Since there's often controversy in many areas of children's health, it's good to work with a doctor who's willing to discuss and explain both sides of an issue with you to help you make the best decisions for your baby. - Does the office have information and offer help for breastfeeding, or using breast milk? If you're not planning to breastfeed (or plan to nurse for a limited time), be sure the pediatrician is supportive of that decision. The last thing you need is another guilt trip. - What should you do in the event of an emergency? What hospital does the physician admit to? Check to make sure the hospital is on your insurance plan too. - Is the doctor board certified? If the letters FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics) are after his or her