When I was pregnant with my first child, I chose a pediatrician without giving it much thought. I had been so overwhelmed with all the demands on my mental energy during pregnancy that I ended up picking a name off a list without doing an initial meeting. I chose someone who was close to where I lived and on my insurance plan, and those were my only qualifications. She turned out to be a total nightmare who I fired within my son’s first year. She constantly talked down to me, wasn’t engaging with my son, and wasn’t open to walking me through issues I was worried about.
Had I been a bit more savvy about asking the right questions on our first meeting, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and found a pediatrician who would have helped me feel supported during those uncertain first few months of motherhood.
The truth is, browsing Yelp reviews isn’t the way to find a doctor who aligns with your needs and parenting style. Here are some questions all pregnant moms should ask before choosing a pediatrician—ones I wish I had asked the first time around.
1. What’s your stance on vaccinations? If you’re on board with on-schedule vaccinations no matter what, this probably isn’t a big one. But if you have any hesitations or want to try a slightly delayed schedule, you should hash this out up front. I felt bullied into giving my son a vaccination while he was seriously ill, when it clearly could have waited until the next month. I simply wanted someone who would be a little bit flexible with me, and didn’t find out my pediatrician wasn’t that person until it was too late. This question will also help you gauge how responsive a pediatrician will be with your concerns. If they blow you off or treat you like an idiot for asking, that’s not the kind of person you want on your team.
2. What if my child needs to be seen after-hours? I found out the hard way that my first pediatrician’s office didn’t have an after-hours clinic, and my child’s doctor was not available to answer any questions. I had to call a nurse hotline and decide whether or not to brave the long wait at the ER if I wanted my child to be seen that night. It’s important to know if you’ll be up against the wall when your kid gets sick on the weekend or after-hours. When I chose my next pediatrician, I made sure to choose one with an after-hours and weekend clinic, which saves us money and a whole lot of precious time when our kids fall sick outside of regular business hours.
3. Do you make hospital visits? If your child has a serious illness or injury that requires hospitalization, chances are you’ll want their doctor nearby to consult. However, some pediatricians don’t do hospital visits, even when your baby is born. I found out entirely too late that my chosen pediatrician didn’t come to our local hospital, and I was at the mercy of the university medical students until we were discharged. When we returned to the hospital days later with a jaundiced newborn, we were again faced with a group of unfamiliar staff. Now we know our new pediatrician will be there for us in the event of another emergency.
4. What are your thoughts on breastfeeding? Generally, you’ll get the answer that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year. However, this is a great jumping off point to describe your own goals and the support you may need whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed. If you feel like you’ll be judged or shamed for any of your choices, then you’re probably not with a pediatrician who is going to be a good fit for your family.
Beyond these questions, it’s important that you feel comfortable and that your potential pediatrician values your time and listens to your concerns. If you got all the right answers but still don’t feel like you “click,” there’s no reason you shouldn’t continue the search. A pediatrician is someone you’re entrusting with your child’s life, and you can afford to be picky.