Healthcare is constantly evolving, which means protocol that might have been standard for your first baby could be completely outdated by the time you have your second. Whether it's a well visit, vaccination appointment, illness evaluation, or a behavior issue, what should you ask the pediatrician to ensure your child gets the best care? The short answer is whatever is on your mind, but there are other questions to consider, too.
When it comes to sick visits, Sara DuMond, M.D., FAAP, tells Romper she'd like parents to ask questions such as how to take an accurate temperature, what constitutes a fever, and what signs or symptoms to look out for that would require a follow-up visit.
In terms of a child's general wellness, Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., says she'd like for parents to ask questions "about how to help their children be successful long-term." She says focusing on short-term academic accomplishments is understandable, but she would prefer if parents asked questions that would help them understand "what their child needs from them, even in the infant and toddler years, to promote wellness down the line."
From age 3 and on, even the most healthy child will still see their pediatrician at least once a year for a well visit, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Having open conversations with the doctor will not only help you give your child the best care at home, but will also help the physician ensure they are providing the best care and advice as well. So, what you should be asking at visits? Here are some questions Dr. Casares and Dr. DuMond say they'd like to hear from parents.
1. Newborn & First-Year Well Visits
After 40 weeks of prenatal appointments, your baby will have at least seven visits with their pediatrician by the time they are 12 months old, as per the AAP. The first year is full of milestones and rapid growth for the baby, and usually a little bit of overwhelm for the parents.
One question Dr. DuMond says she would like to hear is: "My friend uses 'X' formula or supplement for her baby. Can I use these products with mine?" prior to making any changes. This will allow your pediatrician to give you educated, clinical advice based on your individual child. Additionally, Dr. DuMond says parents should ask questions about safe sleep, whether or not baby is getting enough nourishment, car seat safety, and protecting the baby from everyday germs/illness.
Similarly, Dr. Casares would like for parents to ask as many questions as possible about feeding. "Feeding issues in the first weeks and months of a child’s life can come up quickly and cause a lot of stress for new parents," she says. That stress is also something she would like for parents to discuss with her so she can give them advice on how to take care of themselves.
2. Vaccinations & Schedules
This is a hot button topic, but it's important to remember that your child's pediatrician is there to guide you and keep your little one healthy. Both Dr. DuMond and Dr. Casares say they would like for parents to ask them questions about vaccines and vaccine schedules, as open communication is important for care.
Specifically, Dr. Casares says she appreciates questions about the benefits of vaccines as well as about side effects. These conversations can help manage expectations and put parents at ease. "When moms and dads understand that a little fussiness or a fever can be normal in the first 72 hours post-vaccination, they’re less likely to be as worried when these expected symptoms arise," she says.
Dr. DuMond also appreciates when parents ask questions to get clarity on vaccines and their schedule. She says she'd like to hear more parents ask her questions like: "If I'm confused about what I'm reading online or hearing from friends and family about the safety of vaccines, can I ask you about these concerns?" Additionally, she welcomes questions about the safety of vaccinations and the purpose of the strategic administration schedule.
3. Baby & Toddler Sick Visits
When your little one is sick, it can sometimes seem like torture watching them feel so miserable. With sickness comes changes in behavior that may seem alarming, too, like eating less, sleeping more, developing a cough, or acting like they're in pain when they don't have a fever.
It's normal to be overwhelmed and unsure of what to do as a parent, which is why pediatricians are there to help. Dr. Casares tells Romper that at sick visits, regardless of the child's age, she primarily wants parents to ask her what to look for in the days ahead that could be warning signs of something more serious. "When we see patients in the clinic, we’re seeing them at a single point in time," she says. "Occasionally, their illnesses will progress and become more dangerous. It’s exceedingly important to me that parents grasp the symptoms and signs they should really worry about in the hours and days following our visit together."
Dr. DuMond agrees with the importance of this question, but would also like for parents to ask questions that will help them get their child feeling better. Some topics she mentioned include questions about over-the-counter medications and prescriptions, clarification on how long they are contagious or when they can return to daycare/school, how to help little kids actually take their medicine (whether liquid or pills), and advice on keeping their child comfortable without administering medication.
4. Behavior Issues
Kids' behavior can change so dramatically that it sometimes feels like it happened overnight. For the most part, parents just roll with the changes, which is usually the best way to manage it. However, there are some behavior issues Dr. DuMond and Dr. Casares would like for parents to watch out for, and alert their pediatrician about.
Dr. DuMond tells Romper that parents should seek advice and ask questions about anything that seems worrisome in terms sleep and eating patterns, regardless of the child's age. She also notes that mental health is an important topic to discuss with the pediatrician, whether that involves parents and their ability to cope (particularly during the newborn stage) or something concerning about their child.
Mental health is also something Dr. Casares would like for parents to ask questions about. "We know in the medical community that behavioral and physical concerns are interconnected," she says. "We care for the whole patient". Some things she mentions parents should speak up about are concerns regarding their child's focus, managing emotions, or social/relationship connections.
5. Sensitive Topics
For parents, there are some questions they may want to ask their child's pediatrician, but are apprehensive because they're sensitive topics. In general, Dr. Casares says "Developing a relationship with your child’s pediatrician over time can make sensitive conversations easier" but notes that every instance is different.
In terms of the best way to approach the topic with your pediatrician, Dr. Casares explains that the child's age is a major factor. "Most of the time, sensitive discussions about a child are easier to have one-on-one with a parent, without the patient present, but it really depends on the particular situation," she says. "Older children can sometimes best explain their own concerns and teens often desire confidentiality to honestly explain their issues".
Dr. DuMond agrees that age plays a role in these types of conversations and how parents should handle them. "In many instances, we would love to know ahead of time if there is a specific sensitive concern that a parent has about their child," she says. "Most of the time, that allows us to guide a joint discussion with the parent and child, in an age-appropriate way."
6. Parents' Mental Health
For many parents, there is a firm separation between their own healthcare and their child's. This is true, for the most part, because a pediatrician is trained to treat children. However, both Dr. DuMond and Dr. Casares agree that they'd like parents to talk to them about their own mental health as it pertains to parenting. Pediatricians can give advice on coping mechanisms or offer a referral to a provider who may be better equipped to help. No matter what, parents' mental health is an important factor, not only in their own lives, but in their children's lives as well.
Providing the best care for your child means knowing what is important to focus on, and what you should let go. However, that knowledge is only gained through experience and asking questions along the way. Your child's pediatrician wants the absolute best for your little one, so it's beneficial for you to rely on them to give you advice, fill you in on the latest healthcare guidelines, or to simply lend an ear and offer you validation.
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One and founder of www.modernmommydoc.com