Just as the language that we use when discussing birth tends to favor the term “OB” instead of “Doctor,” or “Midwife,” or “Care Provider,” when we talk to parents about finding someone to take their new baby to, the default term for this person is “Pediatrician.” These word choices leave out wide swaths of care providers. For births, it’s not uncommon for people to forget that there are Family Medicine doctors who also provide maternity services (and often they are the one kind of care provider where you can reasonably expect to see the person who did your prenatal care to also attend your birth), or they don’t understand that Certified Nurse Midwives are qualified, appropriate options in many places. For children, Family Medicine doctors are an alternative to Pediatricians, but there are also Advanced Practice Nurses who can do well-child (and sick child) care, such as Pediatric Nurse Practitioners or Family Nurse Practitioners. So, while there are things you need to think about finding a care provider for your baby, keep in mind that there are more options than just choosing a pediatrician.
1) Location- When you have a sick baby or a sick child, that ride to get things checked out can be very stressful. And while the best choice for you may not be the closest option, be realistic about choosing a provider who is 45 minutes away. The distance may become too much to manage. If your child is going to daycare, keep that location in mind when narrowing down options, too. Sometimes finding something largely between your home and daycare makes the most sense.
2) Access- This may be obvious, but if a clinic or provider has a full practice, it’s disappointing, but would mean that you’d have a very hard time getting appointments, especially for urgent issues. Every clinic has different arrangements for after-hour care, too. Find out what they do when parents have a sick child at 2am. Not everything is Emergency Department-worthy. Case in point: When my son had to have a pre-op checkup to have his tonsils taken out, the clinic we had been going to since he was born could not, would not find me any appointment within the 7 day window the surgeon required. I only got an appointment after escalating the issue to a manager and explaining that this was very important that he get in, because it’s hard to get surgeries scheduled. We’d had other issues with being able to get appointments, but this was the absolute last straw.
3) Bedside Manner- When you have a new, tiny baby, it can be overwhelming, and you need to find a care provider for your child who is kind, listens, takes the time to answer questions, and takes your thoughts and goals seriously. We all have bad days, but if you aren’t being treated well or respected on a consistent basis, then you need to look for another provider. You usually have lots of options– find them!
4) Breastfeeding Knowledge- Again, moms face huge hurdles to make it to the 2 week mark with breastfeeding, much less to make it to 6 weeks or 6 months. Your baby’s care provider should be an ally to help you, not to try to discourage you. Unfortunately, not all pediatricians or other providers understand breastfeeding that well, and that lack of comfort on the subject may make them less likely to help a mom meet her breastfeeding goals. And just as study after study has found that when doctors have free samples of a medication to hand out, they are more likely to prescribe those medications to pateints, the same is true for breastfeeding. A care provider who has free samples of infant feeding products may be more likely to default to that as the solution to a wide array of concerns, when it may not be necessary to go that route. There are providers out there who really get breastfeeding, and if your goal is to breastfeed for any amount of time, pick someone who wants to and can help you meet that goal.
5) Are they up to date?-This is the car seat tech in me saying this, but if your baby’s care provider tells you that you can turn your baby forward facing at one year and 20 pounds, please know that that has not been an appropriate practice for at least a few years. Guess what? Best practices for car seats, medications, and everything else do change over time as we gather more and more information. I consider the car seat thing a canary in a coal mine, and I get concerned whenever I find care providers who are so blase about serious issues like car seats.
So, remember your options:
- Family Med Doctors
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
- Family Nurse Practitioners
- Physician Assistants
And I also like to point out that even if you do a lot of research, think you made the right choice, but start to have any of the issues I listed above, or if your gut tells you that something is just not right, don’t be afraid to switch. It’s easy, and it’s worth it.
Anything you’d add? Let me know in the comments below!