by Michael Kabel

    Choosing your baby's doctor is among the most important decisions you'll make during the months before and after delivery. Not to sound overly alarmist, but the doctor that cares for your child during the first few months can have powerful, life-determining power over your child's health. Of course, no one likes to think they've chosen the wrong doctor for their child, so the selection should ideally be the result of careful research and recommendation. It's a subject worthy of investing whatever time and energy you feel is appropriate. 
    To help you, here are a few tips on picking the best doctor for your child:

Make Your Choice Early:
    As in so many parenting related issues, early decisions are often the best when planning your baby's standard of health care. Parents should ideally select their child's doctor during the sixth month of pregnancy. You may also choose to arrange a meeting at that time, so that the doctor can arrange a visitation schedule for after the delivery date and provide advice and strategies for meeting your baby's individual needs. 
    You should also determine how soon after delivery the doctor would begin seeing the baby for checkups.

Gather Recommendations: 
    The single most important guide when choosing a doctor for your child is word of mouth. Obtaining recommendations and feedback from family members and existing patients and clients allows you a reasonable expectation of the doctor's standard of care. 
    Don't simply ask if your reference approves of the doctor's practice or not - find out why. Does the doctor have a great bedside manner? Has the referrer been satisfied with the standard of care in the past? How long are the typical office visits? Is there frequently a long wait time for an appointment? The qualities one patient or parent likes about a doctor may not appeal to you, and vice versa. 

Schedule An Interview: 
Doctors are sometimes difficult to pin down simply for questioning. Nevertheless, even a few minutes of conversation will probably be enough to stimulate your burgeoning parental instincts. Some questions to ask include:

- Are you available for emergencies?
- Does your practice offer weekend hours?
- Does someone "cover" your service when you're unavailable?
- Will you renew prescriptions over the phone?
- How long have you been practicing?
- Where did you do your pediatric residency?
- Do you have a subspecialty?

You should also discuss the doctor's own philosophy or care, and determine his views on breastfeeding, kangaroo care, and any other issues that might concern you. You want someone who'll work with your parenting plan, both immediately and as the baby grows older.

Examine the Doctor's Office & Staff:

    The doctor's staff handles many of the mundane details of his practice, including scheduling, testing, and providing supplies. Check out the doctor's nurses and staff by making a few phone calls to determine how knowledgeable, polite, and professional they seem. You should also determine the efficiency of the doctor's paging and messaging service, as well. 

    Finally, as a practical consideration, find out if the doctor you have in mind belongs to your insurance network. You may wish instead to begin your search with this criterion, as a means of winnowing down potential candidates.