Momsense: Line up a doctor for your baby before she's born

By Andrea Howick & Lianne Castelino on February 19, 2013
Quite a sizeable to-do list begins to form shortly after you discover you’re pregnant: Head to maternity stores to fi nd clothes for your rapidly-increasing size; furnish and stock nursery with supplies; find out about maternity benefits; narrow down baby names.

There is one very important item that expectant parents should add to their checklist – finding a doctor for your baby. If you have a family doctor, is he or she accepting new patients and experienced with newborn care, or should you fi nd a pediatrician – a doctor who specializes in looking after children?

Many parents leave this off the list – intentionally or not – assuming the details will fall into place at or shortly after baby’s birth. But that’s not the best plan, says Dr. Mickey Lester, a Toronto pediatrician who has been practising for more than 40 years and author of the book Say “AAAH” – A Common Sense A to Z Guide to those “Aaahsome” Years Newborn to 5.

“You must have the doctor before the baby is born, and you have to make your own inquiries,” says Dr. Lester. The Canadian Paediatric Society estimates that only about 30 to 40 percent of children’s visits to a doctor for primary health care in Canada are to a pediatrician. The rest see a family doctor. This is partly because there are only about 2,300 practising pediatricians in Canada.

“In my view the general pediatrician is the gold standard for care,” says Dr. Lester. “That is because the pediatrician will recognize problems quicker, make fewer referrals and there will be less chance for misdiagnoses.” A pediatrician is expert at monitoring your baby’s neurodevelopment and will spot any issues like late speech as early as possible.

A family doctor is expert at keeping an eye on general growth and developmental milestones, and managing your baby’s vaccine schedule.

The most important piece of advice is to fi nd a permanent doctor for your baby instead of relying on a walk-in clinic where you may not see the same doctor every time.

A healthcare who's who?

Family doctor/General practitioner
After medical school, the doctor goes through a Family Practice program, which is usually two years; During that time, one to two months is spent focusing on pediatrics.

After medical school, the doctor opts for a four-year program in Pediatrics. Many often choose a sub-specialty, such as pediatric cardiology, gastroenterology or oncology Future reading and conference attendance is focused solely on pediatrics.

Nurse practitioner
Registered Nurses with advanced university education provide personalized, quality health care to patients; In rural areas, where there is the greatest shortage of physicians, Nurse Practitioners are increasingly taking a front-line role in health care.

Stuck on where to look?

Dr. Lester suggests the following options:
  1. Call the hospital where you are scheduled to deliver and inquire if they have a list of family doctors or pediatricians accepting newborn patients. 
  2. Ask friends who already have babies for recommendations. 
  3. Contact your provincial college of physicians and ask if they have a list of physicians accepting newborn patients.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

By Andrea Howick & Lianne Castelino| February 19, 2013

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