Finding the Right Baby Doctor
And I mean for when the baby is out–not in. I don’t say pediatrician because you don’t necessarily need one. We saw a ped for the first year of SuperBoy’s life and then made the switch to a family practice doc. She’s fabulous, sees the kids, me, and if I ever get AA to take a morning off to go in, him too. And the clinic is four minutes from our house. With parking. Dream for a mom who’s pregnant and always a tad late. But I digress.
When you’re pregnant, if you’re reading all those lists of things to do books or sites, they’ll say, find a pediatrician. Then they’ll give you 50 questions to ask him or her before you actually join their practice. I’m going to give you an abbreviated list from a mom of two. My list is shorter because I’ve learned what’s actually a big deal to me, and what’s not. I also have a doctor for my own dad so that eliminates about half of my office visits because he tells me a) it’s a heat rash or b) the swelling will go down. First time parents, you’ll need to develop your own doctor mom or doctor dad intuition and probably (like me!) call or visit the clinic over things that turn out to be, well, not life & death.
I’ll break it down into categories:
If you have to drive a ton to get everywhere anyway, having your doc’s office a billion miles away is fine. But if you’re going to be at home with your baby, it’s way easiest to pick a clinic close to you. And if you’re going back to work, pick a clinic that’s close to daycare (which is hopefully close to work) because of all those he’s sick calls.
I’d go for personal chemistry over age and experience. Honestly. You will be calling this practice group in the middle of the night with questions that may end up being “stupid.” You will want to ask every question under the sun about developmental milestones at those first year frequent well checks. If your doctor is a genius, but can’t relate to you or your kid and brushes off your questions, which assuredly are repetitive and monotonous for her, it’s not fun to sit in those well child checks. And the ones where there’s something actually wrong?! Oh, lordy. You want someone with bedside manner like you wouldn’t believe.
Of course when you call in, or rush in, your doc might not be around. Hopefully the rest of the practice is great too. Or hopefully there’s a doc or two yours works with closely that are a good substitute.
One of our great blog sponsors is Dakota Pediatrics. They are WONDERFUL. More on them when I share our interview from this past fall. Stay tuned.
How available is your actual practitioner? Can you call them and speak with them directly or do you always go through a series of messages & nurses? Does the clinic have walk-in hours on the weekend? Late night appointments? For two working parents it is so frustrating when well-child checkups have to take place during work-time hours. How readily will the clinic refer you to a specialist if you want to get more information about something that could be problematic? Do they call you back within a reasonable amount of time when you call the after hours line?
Usually you call the answering service line, talk to a nurse or message taker. Then the doc calls you back when he or she is available (whomever is on call). If it’s about a fever that’s 100.1, maybe you’ll just talk to the nurse. If it’s about bleeding from any orifice, you’ll talk to the doc.
We are crunchy folk so we wanted a doctor who wouldn’t scoff at the words “homeopathy” and “food sensitivity.” Our doctor practices integrative medicine, which is a great balance for us. Antibiotics when you need them, elimination diet when you are ruling out allergies and sensitivities. Gauge your own desire to be on or off the beaten path, and then go accordingly.
Astonishingly, some pediatric practitioners are not very nursing-savvy or supportive. If your breastfeeding goal is not supported by your doctor, and you feel second-guessed (“maybe you need to supplement as he’s not in X percentile”), definitely switch. If you don’t want to circumcise, as we opted not to, and your doctor isn’t supportive of that perfectly healthy decision, switch. If you want to vaccinate, but spread them out to lessen their side effects, does the practitioner have their own modified schedule (mine does!) or will they go with the one you present (like one from Dr. Sears)? If you don’t want to sleep train, but want advice about helping a 12 month old night wean, will your doc scoff or help?
List of Questions
How many practitioners are in your practice?
Do you round at the hospital where I’m birthing or will you see my little one on a first checkup a few days postpartum?
How can I call you directly? Or speak to you directly about an issue? If not, how do I get a message to you?
Can I ever email you photos of rashes or injuries to get a quick yes-come-in-no-it’s-fine? Or send you a message through your messaging system?
What kind of injuries do you treat in the office and what do we need to go to the hospital for?
At what hospitals do you have privileges?
What’s the typical age of your patient?
If I choose not to circumcise, are you comfortable with that? If I do, when do you recommend we do it? In office or at hospital?
Can I do a modified vaccination schedule (a la Dr. Sears) where we do the same vaccines, but spread out over time so the baby doesn’t get 2-3 at once?
How much do you counsel parents on behavioral parenting: i.e., sleeping, discipline, screentime, nutrition, parenting methodologies? Any strong views on these topics?
If I need to see a specialist, how closely do you work with pediatric specialists in areas that are commonly problematic?
If my child is on the smaller growth side, will you encourage supplementing with formula or do you have expertise or experience in helping me with milk production for him/her?
That’s about it. A few key questions, but really most of it is going off your gut instincts. The reason we have well child checkups, even if you think there’s nothing wrong with your child, is that the expert can detect something (heart issue, private parts issue) that you as dr. mom can’t. And the reason you have a relationship with your practitioner is so when you come to the clinic for a disease or injury related concern, you feel supported in making the best medical decisions for your tiny, helpless, adorable babe.