Choosing a Pediatrician

During the early years of a child’s life there will be many doctor visits. Check-ups or “well visits” are needed to ensure the child is healthy. Just in a baby’s first year, at least 7 check-ups are recommended. Finding the right pediatrician is one of the most important decisions parents will have to make. Hope Kieft, CRNP of PATHS says, “Our goal in pediatrics is to promote the health and wellness of the next generation. We do so through regular check-ups and management of chronic and acute illnesses, all while keeping in mind that each child has unique personalities, needs and special talents.”

There are many ways to find a qualified pediatrician. One way is to use the Find a Pediatrician tool at
healthychildren.org. Referrals from friends and family could provide a link to a qualified pediatrician. Contacting the pediatrics department at your local hospital is also a good way to find a physician. Or if you’re expecting, your OB-GYN is a good source for pediatric referrals.

Depending on where you live there could be an expansive list of pediatricians. There are factors to consider when trying to narrow down the search. Since there will be regular visits, proximity to your home should be taken into consideration. Also, make sure the pediatrician’s office hours are congruent with your schedule. Accessibility is something else to consider. If your child becomes sick, you’ll want to know the doctor can see your child on short notice. Ask about the pediatrician’s extended network. Is it a group practice? Will other doctors see your child? If so, ask to talk with them as well.

There are a multitude of factors to consider when choosing a pediatrician, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Research and interview well in advance to lower your stress levels. If you’re expecting parents, it’s recommended that you begin your search around month 4 or 5 of the pregnancy.

The Importance of Wellness Visits

Children change daily. It’s important to monitor their health regularly. A child may look and act healthy, but a quick blood check could reveal she is anemic. If potential problems are caught early, solutions can be easier. “It is extremely important for parents to ensure their children, from newborns through adolescents have regular wellness exams. Your provider should answer any questions you have regarding your child and provide education about healthy eating, development, immunizations, regular physical activity, and emotional wellbeing,” say Dr. Samantha King of PATHS.

Wellness checkups allow your pediatrician to establish a health baseline that makes any abnormalities easier to catch. These visits provide an outlet to ask questions or voice concerns you have about your child’s behavior including growth, sleep patterns, nutrition, safety, social behavior, and much more. Regular checkups also allow your child to build a relationship with his doctor.

For children, especially the smaller ones, a visit to the doctor can strike fear and cause anxiety. A way to help with the fear is to give your child a toy doctor’s kit to let her get familiar with the practice. It’s also good to educate your child on upcoming visits and to listen to any concerns he may have about the check-up. For older children, it’s important to let them know they will have an open line of communication with the pediatrician without the parents being present if that is their wish.

Vaccines and Immunizations

There’s a debate about the risks and benefits of vaccinations. Despite the differing opinions, it remains clear that vaccines help prevent infectious diseases and save lives. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend vaccinations and many are required by schools and the law.

Vaccines provide immunity to certain diseases by using small amounts of a killed or weakened microorganism that causes the particular disease. Some vaccines may cause mild reactions, but serious reactions are rare.

It is common for parents to have questions about vaccines and their children’s wellness. A routine checkup is an ideal time to talk to your pediatrician about a timeline for vaccinations. For more info, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

Growth and Development

There are many measurements to consider when tracking a child’s growth. First, it’s important to understand the difference between height and growth. Height is only a measure of how tall your child is at any given time. Growth measures how height changes over time. A measure of growth is used to track any nutritional or health abnormalities or underlying disorders that affect a child’s growth. Dr. Robert Broughton of PATHS says, “Each year we should compare the growth charts to ensure proper height and weight gain.”

Growth abnormalities can cause too much, or too little, growth and be a sign of a medical condition such as genetic diseases, hormonal disorders, infections, or nutritional deficiencies to name a few. These abnormalities can be caught during a routine checkup. If a problem is found, most likely the child will be referred to an endocrinologist for treatment. When issues are found early, there is a greater possibility to regain normal growth.

Tracking a child’s growth at home can be key in identifying any potential disorders. You can start when the child is old enough to stand. Have her stand against a wall. Place a book flat against the wall and bring it down until it rests on the top of her head. Make sure she looks straight ahead and mark the height. Keep a digital log of the measurements. To take accurate counts, be sure to use the same technique with each measurement. This can be a fun exercise and an important tool to monitor your child’s growth.

Development screenings are another measure to track a child’s learning skills. These screenings are vital in determining if a child is developing at a normal pace. Either your child will take a brief test of you will be asked to complete a questionnaire or checklist about your child. The questions pertain to the child’s language, movement, thinking, behavior, and emotions. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental and behavioral screening for all children at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months.

Choosing a Dentist

Along with wellness checkups, regular dental checkups are necessary. A pediatric dentist will be able to diagnose potential growth and developmental issue related to the mouth, jaw, face, and head. It’s recommended that all children should visit a dentist before their first birthday. Dr. Donna Helton says, “Good oral health in children is essential for overall wellbeing. It is important for children to get a good start in terms of dental health since the teeth affect their ability to chew food properly, speak clearly, smile, and look attractive.”

Finding a dentist that your child is comfortable with is key in his future oral health care. A bad early experience can be difficult to overcome. If you don’t have a dentist in mind, ask for recommendations or use the dentist search tool on the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s website.

It’s a good idea to schedule a consultation before an appointment. Once there, look around and make sure the office is child-friendly with books and toys in the waiting room. It’s OK to interview the potential dentist. You want to know the dentist will take the time necessary to explain basic dental care to your child while providing a comforting tone and demeanor.

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About The Author

Paul Seiple
Editorial Director