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Finding Quality Care

You'll be at the pediatrician's office at least six times in your baby's first year alone  -- and probably more  -- so having a doctor you trust is a must. "Take the time to find someone you have confidence in and are comfortable with," says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy infant and toddler development.

Start by asking your friends, family, or obstetrician for referrals, but don't just get names  -- ask how the doctor interacts with children, how the office handles paperwork (billings, insurance, health forms, prescriptions) and referrals, who the other doctors in the practice are, and what an office visit is like. Once you have some candidates, call or visit the practices to learn about the following.

• Qualifications Find out if the doctor is "board-certified" by the American Board of Pediatrics. If she's part of a group practice, ask about the other doctors' credentials.

• Insurance coverage Make sure a potential doctor is covered by your insurance. Ask which other plans they participate in as well; in the event of a change, it's nice to know that the practice accepts other plans. If you don't have insurance or your plan doesn't cover well-child visits, ask about costs and how payments work.

• Hospital affiliation Learn which hospital the pediatrician is associated with and make sure you're comfortable with its location and reputation. It helps if your pediatrician is affiliated with the hospital where you deliver so she can examine the baby immediately after birth. Ask if any emergencies are handled at the office.

• Availability Ask about office hours and how weekends, vacations, holidays, and after-hours are covered. How long does it take to make an appointment? Are there same-day appointments if your child is suddenly ill? Are there call-in hours when you can ask questions by phone? If you're considering a group practice, find out whether you can see the same pediatrician at each visit.

• Office environment Once you've narrowed down your list, set up a time to briefly meet each doctor. Show up early and sit in the waiting room to get a sense of the office  -- whether it's comfortable, if the staff is friendly and helpful, and how long the wait is.

• The doctor's philosophy When you meet, try to understand her thinking on childhood topics such as breastfeeding, discipline, and toilet training. Ask how she monitors developmental issues. Lerner suggests posing some scenarios: What if I want to discuss sleeping problems? What if my baby misses milestones? Meeting with the doctor is a chance to get a sense of her style and personality.

• Trust your instincts Does the doctor seem to care? Does she communicate well? If something doesn't click on a personal level, consider another doctor.

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