Choosing a Pediatrician: It’s Like Going on a Date!

When my baby was about six weeks old my pediatrician told me that my baby shouldn’t be nursing for more than twenty minutes per breast. More than twenty minutes, she informed me, and “She is using you as a pacifier.” What? She’s using me as a pacifier? Is that bad? Hello, parenting decision. And here I thought she was eating. “But maybe she’s just hungry…,” I mumbled. 

“No. She’s using you as a pacifier.”  There was no hesitation; no ands, ifs, or buts about it. It was definitive. My child was using me. I was being used.

Later, when my child was about six months old, this same pediatrician informed me that my baby no longer needed to be nursing at night. “A baby this old has no need to be nursing at night any more. She can sleep through the night just fine. If you continue to nurse her at night like you are now, she’ll be yours for life.”

What did that mean, she’ll be mine for life? Isn’t she already mine for life? Did she mean that my baby will still be wanting to nurse as a teenager? I didn’t get it. The only think I could figure is that she wasn’t in favor of long-term nursing. That then raised  more questions for me. How long did I want to nurse at night? Isn’t that for the baby to decide? I was confused and my baby’s doctor wasn’t making it very easy for me to wrestle with these tough parenting issues. She was giving flat out advice and that style just wasn’t working for me.

It was at this point that I realized my doctor and I needed to break up. I would do it gently. “It’s all about me. It has nothing to with you. Really!” The fact that we probably didn’t really see eye-to-eye on some pretty important parenting practices was a big part of the problem, but even bigger was the fact that I didn’t feel there was space in the examining room for my opinions. And what did I know? This was my first baby. I didn’t feel very confident in disagreeing with her and there was no room for conversation or objection or even curiosity. I simply didn’t feel comfortable in our relationship anymore. And counseling clearly wasn’t an option.

The pediatrician-parent relationship is a complex and important relationship, especially for the first-time parent. During those really early months of your baby’s life a zillion questions come up about caring for this new little being. And the books just don’t have the answers. (Either that or you’re too sleep deprived or petrified to read them.) So who do you turn to? Your pediatrician. Your pediatrician and the clinic where you have those appointments every week. And don’t kid yourself—in between those appointments, you’ll end up calling about anything from a pimply butt to a red face. Maybe she has the measles! Maybe it’s a life threatening rash! I’d better call the doctor.

Choosing a doctor before the baby comes is one of the most important things you will do prior to giving birth. As soon as that baby is out of the womb she already has about ten doctor’s appointments lined up that she’ll need to go to over the course of the next couple of months. During those first visits the doctor will be direclty and indirectly evaluating you as a parent and whether that baby is thriving in your care: Where does the baby sleep? How long does she sleep? What is she eating? How much is she eating? How much does the baby weigh? How much has she gained since I saw her a week ago? Is she breastfeeding or bottlefeeding? How much and for how long?

And then the big question: “Your baby is scheduled for three vaccinations this visit. Do you want to give them all?”

Because of all the decision-making that goes into parenting and caring for your baby, you need to find a doctor that fits your personality, your parenting style and your expectations of a physician. You and your doctor might not agree on every issue but hopefully you will enter into a relationship with someone who will  listen and honor your decisions as a parent while giving you the information you need to make informed choices. Most importantly, you will want to find someone you like as a person and whose opinion you respect.

I initially chose the doctor that I did because she seemed to be a pretty liberal doctor and was open to a delayed vaccination schedule. However, six months after the baby was born we split up because of irreconcible differences. The marriage was annuled. Our views on breastfeeding seemed to differ pretty radically and our communication didn’t feel like a two way street.

If you and your doctor have radically different ideas about how to care for a baby, it might not be a good fit. It’s kind of like going on a first date. You may think you’re in it for the long haul but as you find out more about the potential partner, your opinion may change over time. If you can get it right the first time, it can make things a little bit easier.

Part of the reason this relationship with your doctor is so important is because parenting requires loads of on-the-fly decisions regarding your baby’s health and well-being. In addition to the “What do I do right this second?” decisions, it also involves the questions about “How do I want to parent my child over the next year or two years?” Some of these decisions will be about issues that you will want to run by your doctor. When do I introduce solids? When do I stop breastfeeding? Is it safe to co-sleep with an infant? How long should a breastfeeding session last? These are topics that you’re going to want to discuss openly and honestly with your pediatrician, and the more comfortable you feel with your doctor, the better. Every doctor has their views on raising children and if your doctor’s methods are drastically different from what you want and care about, you won’t be getting the most out of the relationship.

Looking back on the process of choosing a pediatrician, I realize that I grossly underestimated the importance of finding a doctor that I liked as a person and whom I would respect.

When you pick a pediatrician you want to pick someone to whom you really want to go for advice; someone who will be open to hearing your opinions and point of view; and someone whose opinion you will trust. You want someone you can stay with for years to come. Find a pediatrician to walk down the aisle with and one with whom you can work, both in sickness and in health!

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7 comments

  1. Absolutely. Like it or not, doctors are human beings. Human beings who survived medical school, which is no easy task. But that does not mean they are necessarily smarter or wiser than the rest of us.

    People should go to the doctor with a written list of questions, so they don’t forget during the appointment. And they should remember that the doctor works for the patient, or the patient’s parent, not the other way around. If you don’t feel the doctor you chose is a good fit, try another. Keep trying until you are satisfied. And don’t feel you can only have one doctor. You might want to bring your child to a few different doctors, so you have some one you know available if your regular doctor is not available. Or different doctors for different situations. Such as one doctor that is better for asthma, and another that is better for ear infections.

  2. My best advice regarding this is to choose a recently-minted doctor. Everyone tells you that you need someone experienced, however I find this to be dead wrong when it comes to Pediatric care. Someone who has been in practice for over ten years probably wasn’t taught (how) to support your breastfeeding relationship. Someone trained years ago was taught that co-sleeping causes SIDS and if not that, then a lifetime of bad sleeping habits. Someone who trained more than ten years ago IS NOT GOING TO BE UP ON THE LATEST RESEARCH. There is so much coming out that CME will not catch you up.
    A recent grad. will have been taught to respect his or her patients and their parents. They will know more about breastfeeding (don’t go to them for bf advice though) and will be more inclined to support it by not telling you to give formula when your child isn’t gaining enough weight. A recent grad will not have been taught that “babies just cry” and I’m pretty sure that was part of the med. school currciulum back in the day. And yes, you need someone you like and feel like will listen to you and whom you can get along with. I work for the local med school’s residency program, so I was able to quickly identify one of the docs I was meeting as someone who had wrapped up her residency training that same year. We have a great relationship with her, my kid likes her, I like her. She diagnosed his reflux on the first problem visit and told me many things about it that are true, even if she isn’t quite up to treating it herself. She knows we co-sleep and has never told me that was wrong or bad. She has never tried to tell my my child’s problems were behavioral in nature or otherwise that they were caused by bad parenting. I wish I could clone her!

  3. love your post – its a crying shame that in our culture we deny ourselves the most basic, beautiful thing in the world – a baby’s comfort at its mothers breast. rather odd if we think about it. a also fully agree on the importance of a supportive, caring pediatrician, and the difficulty in finding one.
    pinkbluebird @ http://babylovesmangoes.wordpress.com/

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