What Is a Pediatrician?

It's one of the biggest decisions you make before your baby is born. Which pediatrician is the right one for your child? Before you start your search, take a few minutes to learn exactly what this kind of doctor does. It will help you make a better choice and know what to expect when your little one arrives.

A pediatrician is a doctor who manages the health of your child, including physical, behavior, and mental health issues. He's trained to diagnose and treat childhood illnesses -- from minor health problems to serious diseases.

Pediatricians have an education that gives them special skills to take care of your child's health. They graduated from medical school and completed a 3-year residency program in pediatrics.

You'll want to find one who's also "board-certified." That means he's passed rigorous exams given by the American Board of Pediatrics. To stay certified, pediatricians have to meet regular education requirements.

What Does Your Pediatrician Do?

He'll see your child many times from birth to age 2 and once a year from ages 2 to 5 for "well-child visits." After age 5, your pediatrician will likely continue to see your little one every year for annual checkups. He's also the first person to call whenever your child is sick.

To take care of your child, your pediatrician will:

  • Do physical exams
  • Give your child vaccinations
  • Make sure she meets milestones in growth, behavior, and skills
  • Diagnose and treat your child's illnesses, infections, injuries, and other health problems
  • Give you information about your child's health, safety, nutrition, and fitness needs
  • Answer your questions about your little one's growth and development
  • Refer you to specialists if he thinks your child needs expert care

How Does Your Pediatrician Work With Your Delivery Team?

Most hospitals ask if you have a pediatrician when you go in to deliver. Your baby's first examination may be with a hospital pediatrician or your chosen pediatrician. It depends on the hospital's policy and whether your newborn's doctor makes rounds there. If a hospital pediatrician checks your baby, he'll send your pediatrician notes about his exam.

After you leave the hospital, your pediatrician will see your baby 48 to 72 hours later, and regularly after that for "well-child visits."

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Why Do You Need a Pediatrician?

One thing to keep in mind: Family medicine doctors are also an option for your child. They look after the health of your whole family -- kids and grown-ups alike. It's a personal choice whether you use one or a pediatrician.

Some reasons to go with a pediatrician are:

  • They have special training in children's health.
  • They only see children in their practice, so they have a lot of experience in recognizing and treating childhood illnesses.
  • If your child was born early or has a health condition that needs close monitoring, a pediatrician may offer more specialized care.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 20, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Alex Folkl, MD, McMaster University family medicine residency, Hamilton, Ontario.

Beth Nelsen, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, associate pediatric residency program director, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital, Syracuse, N.Y.

Ohio State Medical Center: "The Pediatrician."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Pediatrics 101."

HealthyChildren.org: "Why Choose a Pediatrician?" "A Pediatrician's Training."

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