How to choose a pediatrician for your child

You’ve got baby’s room all prepped and your go bags are ready.

The big day arrives, you get to the hospital and your child is born.

But there’s one major decision for which new parents are often unprepared.

“We have a lot of parents who come in to have their baby who still don’t know who they’re going to choose for their pediatrician,” said Michelle Savoie, director of the Family Center at Exeter Hospital.

When that happens, Savoie said the hospital will assign the parents the pediatrician on call, who helps them determine where the best place is for them to go.

“If they want to stay in the area, then they let them know which providers in their practice are accepting new patients,” Savoie said.

But, she says, that’s a last resort.

“I don’t recommend that,” Savoie said. “Hopefully, they’ve done some research before they get to us so they’re not juggling at that point.”

So, where, and most importantly, when do you start?

Savoie suggested starting to think about looking for a pediatrician after 24 weeks.

She said before anything, parents need to know what type of people they are and ask themselves what type of pediatrician they’re looking for.

“Do you want an older provider, who is more experienced and you feel more comfortable with?” she said. “Do you want a younger provider who’s maybe a little newer, a little more cutting edge and has less experience but maybe different ideas?”

She said hospital websites typically have a list of providers where parents can get background information, such as where they went to school and what their specialties are.

But she added that good, old-fashioned word of mouth is often the way to go.

“I recommend you talk to your friends or if you know somebody in the business, that’s always helpful,” she said. “Find out where they go, who they recommend. How do they like their practice? How are the wait times? Is it hard to get an appointment?”

Not all pediatricians are accepting new patients, so that’s important to check, as well.

Savoie said many hospitals and practices offer “meet and greet” appointments with pediatricians, giving parents the chance to meet their baby’s potential doctor before birth.

She said that’s a great opportunity to ask important questions.

“See if your styles are similar. See if they meet the needs of what’s important to you,” she said.

Kathleen Gilchrist of Nashua has a 2-year-old daughter, Grace, and were expecting twins in January.

She and her husband started thinking about selecting a pediatrician for their daughter at about 8 months, when they took their hospital tour.

“Since I was having a girl, I knew I wanted a female doctor for her,” Gilchrist said.

“By luck, she was the attending doctor the day my daughter was born, so we got to meet her and really liked her because she was gentle with Grace and with us,” she said. “We had no clue what we were doing.”

They didn’t end up switching practices and named the female doctor attending as the primary care physician for Grace.

“Knowing what I know now and how lucky we got meeting the doctor by chance at the hospital, I would have gone and at least toured the facility on one of their open house nights,” Gilchrist said.

Nina Cullen is a certified childbirth educator at Nini Bambini in Bedford.

She said moms planning to breastfeed should make sure the pediatrician has a lactation counselor or consultant on staff.

But she said the biggest question for today’s parents is vaccines, which she described as a “huge, hot-button topic.”

She said there’s a traditional vaccine schedule, starting at two months, including several which are done at the same time.

But she said some parents prefer an “alternative vaccine schedule.”

“Some parents really believe that it’s better to give children vaccines spread out at different intervals, like individual vaccines,” she said. “Lots of doctors’ offices don’t do that and they don’t believe in it.”

Cullen said it’s also important to consider after-hours care and what the options will be for you and your child.

She said while larger providers often have a bigger network of doctors available for after-hours care, many smaller practices can’t offer that.

“The trade-off in a smaller practice is that you get to know your doctor more because typically that’s the doctor you see every time,” she said.

And, she says, many parents, like Gilchrist, prefer to have a doctor that matches their child’s gender.

“It doesn’t matter when they’re babies, but it might matter later, when they’re 5 or 6 years old,” she said.

But even for parents who haven’t thought about it until the very end, Cullen said there’s no reason to panic.

“There’s always going to be a doctor to see your child in a hospital,” she said. “At the hospital, you might meet that doctor and really like that doctor and go to that practice.”

And she said it’simportant parents also remember that it’s never written in stone that you have to stay with the first doctor you choose.

Cullen said family practices are also an option.

“That family practice doctor sees the whole family, knows the whole family, and treats the whole family. And that’s sort of nice,” she said.

Amanda Dove-Williams lives in Merrimack and is a mother of two, ages 6 and 3.

She said she lucked out with her doctors the hospital assigned and ended up sticking with them.

She said the most important qualities for her in a pediatrician are someone who is patient with questions, explains things in a way that is understandable, is good with kids and cares about your family.

But her bottom-line advice for parents?

Go with your gut.

“Ultimately, these are the people you are trusting with the most precious things in your world, so you have to be able to trust in their knowledge and opinions completely,” she said.

Michael Brindley is the newscast producer/reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio. He and his wife Kate are expecting their first child.

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