A pediatrician is a medical doctor who specializes in treating infants, children, and adolescents up to the age of 21.
Pediatricians help keep children healthy by regularly checking their growth and development. They help prevent illness by giving vaccinations and general health advice.
And when children do get sick or hurt, they treat a wide range of common illnesses and injuries.
Some pediatricians are primary care physicians. This means they’re your first stop for general medical care and wellness visits. Other pediatricians specialize. The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, for example, lists more than 30 pediatric specialties, including:
- oncology: the treatment of childhood cancers
- neurology: the treatment of childhood brain and nervous system disorders
- otolaryngology: the treatment of childhood ear, nose, throat, and neck problems
- neonatology: the treatment of babies born premature
- allergy and immunology: the treatment of childhood food and environmental allergies and problems with the immune system
- rehabilitative medicine: physical and occupational therapy for children
- cardiology: the treatment of childhood heart conditions
According to the American Board of Pediatrics, a doctor who intends to become a pediatrician must complete a three-year residency in pediatrics after graduating from medical school and getting a state license.
After the residency, pediatricians might pursue extra training in a specialty area, or they could start practicing pediatric medicine.
Some pediatricians take the additional step of becoming board-certified in pediatrics. Board-certified pediatricians have to pass demanding tests and commit to rigorous ongoing professional education.
Some parents want to start building a relationship with their baby’s doctor before the baby arrives. While you’re pregnant, you can research pediatricians in your area to find one who accepts your insurance and is close to home or work.
Once you’ve decided on a pediatrician, you can meet with them to share your family’s medical history and make a plan for taking care of your baby in the first few days and weeks.
Your pediatrician can give information about possible postnatal emotional ups and downs, schedule a circumcision, or talk about any other area of concern you might have as a parent-to-be.
You could also make plans for your pediatrician to visit you and meet the baby while you’re still in the hospital or birthing center.
Finding a pediatrician in advance will eliminate one of the many unknowns you’ll probably encounter after your baby arrives.
How do I choose between a pediatrician and a family doctor?
The most obvious difference between a pediatrician and a family doctor is that pediatricians specialize in caring for babies, children, and teens, while family doctors also treat adults in the family.
For some people, it’s important for everyone in the family to be treated by the same doctor. Others might prefer a doctor who focuses on caring for children only.
This decision is ultimately a personal one. It may come down to which doctor makes you feel most comfortable.
Whether you’re looking for a pediatrician or a family doctor, it’s perfectly fine to interview doctors before you decide.
According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, these are some questions you should consider when choosing a pediatrician:
- What are their office hours?
- How do I reach them if my baby has an emergency after hours?
- What hospital are they affiliated with?
- How is billing handled?
- Will my child get to see the same doctor every visit?
- How friendly is the staff?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you take your baby to the pediatrician for checkups at least six times during the first year.
Between the ages of 1 and 3, your child may visit the pediatrician every three to six months. After children turn 4, they usually only need well visits once a year.
Well visits are a good time to talk to your pediatrician about any concerns you have or changes you’ve noticed since the last visit.
A good relationship with a pediatrician is especially important during adolescence, when teens are experiencing lots of physical and emotional changes.
Once children reach puberty, they may want to ask their doctors questions in private. A study recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that both parents and children think teens need to be able to ask their doctors confidential questions about health issues in private.
At some point between ages 16 and 21, depending on your child and your pediatrician, you may decide it’s time to transition to a general practitioner.
A pediatrician is a doctor who treats babies, children, and teenagers. Some pediatricians are primary care physicians. Others specialize in specific childhood conditions.
Whether you want a pediatrician or a family care doctor may depend on the providers in your area. It may also depend on whether you want your child to be able to keep seeing the same doctor into adulthood.
Either way, it’s a good idea to find a pediatric care provider you trust while you’re still pregnant so your child can begin regular well visits right away.
Infants visits pediatricians very often, but eventually your child will probably have well visits once a year for growth and development checks, along with any necessary immunizations.
In the teen years, your child may want to ask their doctor questions in private.
Eventually, your child will switch to a doctor who treats adults, but a good relationship with a caring pediatrician is vital during the childhood years.