What Is a Pediatrician?

One of the many things you need to do to prepare for your baby's arrival is to choose a doctor to oversee their health care. A pediatrician is a medical doctor who manages the physical, behavioral, and mental care for children from birth until age 18. A pediatrician is trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of childhood illnesses, from minor health problems to serious diseases.

Pediatricians have graduated from medical school and completed a 3-year residency program in pediatrics. A board-certified pediatrician has passed rigorous exams given by the American Board of Pediatrics. To remain certified, pediatricians have to meet regular continuing education requirements.

What Does Your Pediatrician Do?

Your pediatrician will see your baby many times from birth to age 2 and annually from age 2 to age 5 for "well-child visits." After age 5, your pediatrician will likely  see your child every year for annual checkups. Your pediatrician is also the first person to call whenever your child is sick. In caring for your child, a pediatrician will:

  • Do physical exams
  • Give recommended immunizations
  • Make sure your child is meeting developmental 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 child’s growth and development
  • Refer to and collaborate with a specialist should your child become ill and need care beyond the pediatrician's expertise

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. This depends on hospital policy and whether your pediatrician makes rounds at the hospital where you deliver, and whether your baby was born early.

If your baby is born early, they will probably go right to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Highly specialized NICU doctors and nurses will care for your baby and monitor their health until they develop enough to come home.

Your pediatrician will be given the records from your baby’s stay in the hospital. After you leave the hospital, your pediatrician will see your baby 48 to 72 hours after discharge, then regularly after that for "well-child visits."

If your child ever needs more specialized care, your pediatrician will coordinate care with other health care professionals. They will help you understand complex information and help you make decisions as needed.

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Why Do You Need a Pediatrician?

Family doctors can also provide routine care for your child. Choosing between a family doctor and a pediatrician can be a personal preference. Here are some reasons to consider choosing a pediatrician:

  • Pediatricians have specialized training in the physical, emotional, and behavioral needs of children.
  • Pediatricians only see children, so they often have a broader experience recognizing and treating childhood illnesses.
  • If your baby was born early or has a health condition that needs close monitoring, a pediatrician may offer more specialized care.

How Do You Choose a Pediatrician?

It's a good idea to begin looking for a pediatrician at the beginning of your third trimester. You'll want to give yourself plenty of time to find someone both you and your partner feel comfortable with. Ask your OB and trusted family and friends for recommendations. If possible, schedule an in-person interview to get a feel for the doctor’s office and how well you connect.

Here are some questions to consider in making your choice.

  • Does this doctor have a good reputation?
  • What is this doctor's training and experience?
  • Does the pediatrician respect my philosophy on breastfeeding and immunizations?
  • Does the doctor listen to me and explain things clearly?
  • Will my child see the same doctor every time?
  • Who covers for the pediatrician when they are not available?
  • Is the office staff pleasant and helpful?
  • Is the office location convenient?
  • How long does it take to get an appointment?
  • Does the pediatrician offer evening and weekend hours? Who sees my child during these hours?
  • How are emergencies and after-hour calls handled?
  • What hospital is the pediatrician affiliated with?
  • Does my insurance cover this doctor's services?

If you end up moving or changing insurance, look for a new doctor well before your child needs a checkup or becomes sick.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on December 20, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Alex Folkl, MD, McMaster University Family Medicine Residency, Hamilton, Ontario.

Beth Nelsen, MD, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics, Associate Pediatric Residency Program; director, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital, Syracuse, NY.

Ohio State Medical Center: "The Pediatrician"

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Pediatrics 101."

HealthChildren.org: "Why Choose a Pediatrician?" "A Pediatrician's Training," "Finding a Pediatrician,” "How to Choose a Pediatrician."

Philip Itkin, MD, FAAP, pediatrician, Omaha Children's Clinic.

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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