As parents near the end of a pregnancy, finding a great pediatrician for their new baby becomes a priority. It’s equally important to find one early, since experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that all newborns be seen by a pediatrician within 48 to 72 hours after hospital discharge (usually about 3-5 days after birth) to evaluate feeding schedule and track weight gain. However, the challenge of finding a pediatrician, or even knowing where to start looking, is a real struggle for many parents—especially those who are doing it for the first time!
We want to start by letting you know that even though this can be stressful, you’ve absolutely got this. The fact that you’re even reading this post to try and figure it out is a testament to how awesome a parent you are (or are going to be!). We’ve designed this post to walk you step-by-step through how to find a pediatrician, what questions to ask them during your initial visit, and how often you should schedule appointments for your child. By the end, we’re hoping that you’ll feel much more confident as you begin your search to find a pediatrician who is the right fit for your family!
How To Search for a Pediatrician
Your first step will be one of these two proven ways to find a pediatrician: asking for a recommendation, or searching for one yourself.
Asking For Recommendations
Your obstetrician, family, or friends could all be terrific resources to learn about what pediatricians they’ve had good experiences with. Family and friends may have more anecdotal experiences with pediatricians, but it can be helpful to hear from them which ones have cared particularly well for their children.
Searching By Yourself
Whether you have exhausted your leads for recommendations, or you’d rather start on your own, you can use a search engine to find a pediatrician. Search tools, especially the ones by AAP and Healthgrades, can help you find pediatricians in your area.
AAP’s search is already narrowed down to physicians who have the “FAAP” designation, which stands for “Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics”. These pediatricians have earned their initial board certification in pediatrics or a pediatric specialty, and they have made a commitment to lifelong learning and advocacy. You can search for pediatricians by zip code and specialty, but there is no filter for health insurance, or rating system for the pediatricians listed.
With Healthgrades search, you can see reviews for some pediatricians, which may help inform your decision-making, and the site will also let you filter by health insurance. However, it does not show their board certification without clicking on the pediatrician and scrolling down fairly far on the page, which can be inconvenient if you’re interested in credentials. Additionally, not all pediatricians listed on Healthgrades have reviews, which could mean you miss out on a great pediatrician simply because none of their patients have left a rating! It’s always best to meet a physician and form your own opinion of them, versus relying solely on online reviews.
Do Your Research & Schedule Initial Appointment
It can be tempting to select the first pediatrician you find in the search results, or the first one that’s recommended by your obstetrician or friends and family. However, just because a pediatrician has a top spot in a search result or comes recommended, it doesn’t mean they will work well with you and your child. Pediatricians are there for the long haul—they will consistently be there for your child, and for you as a parent, for years to come. It’s important to pick the right one!
We recommend making a short list of pediatricians you have a good feeling about. Once you have this list, take some time to look at their pediatric practice’s website (if they have one!), and try to answer the following questions on your own:
- What are their typical office hours?
- Do they have after-hours support?
- Do they accept your health insurance?
- Is their office in a convenient location for you?
Once you’ve determined these things (or if you need clarification about any of them!), give the office a call. Let them know that you’re trying to make an initial appointment to speak with the pediatrician before you give birth and see if they will be a good fit. You may want to make a few of these appointments with different pediatricians, since waiting lists can be long. If you put all your eggs in one basket and then you don’t like the pediatrician you chose once you meet them, it can be a hassle to try and find someone else in time!
What to Ask a Pediatrician During an Initial Visit
When you have your initial visit with a pediatrician (which most pediatric practices offer for free!), make sure to bring a list of questions. You may have some of your own, but if you’re not sure where to start, we’ve compiled a list below that you can take from!
- Where do you stand on topics that matter to me as a parent?
- Such as immunization, breastfeeding, medication, discipline, etc.
- How far in advance do we need to schedule appointments?
- Are you able to be reached by email or in a patient portal?
- What is your policy on taking and returning phone calls for patients?
- Do you have a nurse in the office who can answer routine questions?
- How do you handle visits for illnesses, like colds or ear infections? Are there short-notice appointments available for these visits?
- What is your process for screening and helping children and teens with mental health concerns?
If you feel unsatisfied with any of the answers you receive, or you get the sense that you and the pediatrician will not be a good fit, don’t be afraid to keep looking! People frequently switch doctors, and even transition between physicians at the same practice—it’s all about what works best for you and your family.
How Often to Visit Your Pediatrician
Your very first visit with a pediatrician will often be on a timeline recommended by your obstetrician. Like we mentioned earlier, most parents will be advised to schedule a newborn evaluation with their pediatrician within a few days of being discharged from the hospital. During this evaluation, you can ask your pediatrician about how often you should be coming in for future appointments.
Typically, pediatricians will see your child a few more times during the first month of life to make sure they are progressing as expected, and then they will see them every two months or so until they are a year old (Healthy Children AAP). Visits may be spaced further during your child’s second year, often in three- and six-month intervals, and then annual visits after this every year until your child turns 21. At this point, or at any point after they turn 18, your child can choose to switch to a primary care provider, or PCP, who will continue to schedule annual visits with them into adulthood.
We hope all this has been helpful for you as you look for a pediatrician. Remember, you can ask your pediatrician if they use the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP) for their patients–it’s a great indicator that they take child and adolescent mental health seriously, and that they will be able to rely on VMAP and our services if your child ever needs support for their mental health!