It's smart to be choosy about who will take care of your baby. After all, your pediatrician will have a big role to play in helping you get your little one off to a healthy start.

And it's a partnership that could last for a while. Your child's doctor will help them grow into a thriving toddler, teenager, and young adult.

When to Start

Try to kick off your search before your baby is born. The sweet spot is about 3 months before they are due to arrive. This gives you time to review your options without feeling rushed. Remember: Babies sometimes arrive early.

Ideally, you'll have the name and number of your new pediatrician when you arrive at the hospital. Your baby will need to be examined within 24 hours of delivery. If you don't have someone in mind, the hospital will assign a doctor to you.

That's OK, but it's better to have things in place before the big day. "Then you have the opportunity to have your pediatrician come into the hospital, examine your baby the first time, and start the journey with you from the beginning," says Donna-Marie McMahon, DO, assistant professor of pediatrics at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Step 1. Gather Names

Your first step is to make a list. Ask people you know for recommendations. Your obstetrician may suggest local doctors they work with. Ask friends and family who they use -- and if they're happy with them. Try to ask people you trust. They're more likely to understand your needs, preferences, and parenting philosophy.

"My daughter, Paisley, is now 2 1/2 years old, but I still vividly recall the hunt for the right pediatrician," says Trish McCall, a public relations professional.

"I didn't have many friends who had already had kids and who lived in Southern California, where I live," she says. So she launched her search online. "I did a combination of Facebook querying and rate-my-doctor sites."

You can also get recommendations from your local hospital, medical center, or county medical society, or through the American Academy of Pediatrics.

You may want to visit your insurance company's website for a list of local pediatricians included on your plan. Expenses add up quickly, so finding a doctor who's covered is best, McMahon says.

Step 2. Do Your Research

Now it's time to get detailed information on each doctor. First, see if they're board-certified. This means they've passed important tests and kept up with the latest medical news and practices. To find out, check the website of the American Board of Pediatrics.

Next, check the website of your state's medical board to see if anyone has filed a complaint.

Finally, look at how well each doctor fares on rating websites. Many rank pediatricians based on things like patient feedback and professional awards.

McCall scrolled through a bunch of sites. She checked doctors' overall scores and how long each was in practice. Then she ran a search on each doctor for relevant news.

She also read patient reviews. They can give you extra insight on a doctor, but try not to put too much value on them. "Just like any Amazon review, they're written by people that you can't verify," McMahon says. "Is it the office staff writing the review? Is it a disgruntled parent?"

Step 3. Narrow It Down

By now you should have a short list a list of qualified pediatricians. Next, visit their websites or call their offices to get practical details.

Pamela Gigi Chawla, MD, a medical director at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, suggests looking at:

Access. What are the office hours? Do they have urgent care, same-day or walk-in appointments, telehealth, or online scheduling or health records? Is it easy to park and get into the office?

Connections. Is the pediatrician affiliated with a hospital, clinic, or network of specialists?

Service. Do the doctor and staff deliver care as a team? Do they offer lab services? Which professional guidelines do they follow? How do they communicate with you between visits?

As you gather details, you'll start to get a feel for which doctors are the best fit for you and your baby.

Ultimately, McCall found a good match. "I chose a doctor who had been in practice 9 years -- long enough to be vetted in the industry but not so long that new technology and ideology had passed them by," she says.

As you do your search, remember that you're not locked in for life. "If you decide to see a pediatrician and you figure out it's not working, you can always change your pediatrician," McMahon says.

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