Finding a Doctor for Your Premature Baby

Pediatricians, Pulmonologists, Cardiologists, and More

A doctor examining a baby.
Premature babies see many doctors during the first years of life. Image copyright Mel Yates / Getty Images

Bringing your premature baby home from the hospital is a joy. Away from NICU procedures and rules, you can finally relax and enjoy your baby. As you're settling in with your baby, though, keep your diaper bag handy, as visits to doctors' offices can take up a lot of time in the first year. Finding a doctor for your premature baby, or a team of doctors, is an important part of keeping your baby healthy.

Choosing a Doctor for Your Premature Baby

Choosing the right pediatrician or family doctor for your premature baby is one of the most important things you can do for your baby's health. Having the best doctor for your baby can make visits much more pleasant and can help your baby get the best care possible.

Many pediatricians welcome parents to come in for an interview before making an appointment. If you didn't choose a doctor before your baby was born, start looking for a primary care doctor, either a pediatrician or a family practice doctor early in your baby's NICU course. This will give you plenty of time to find the right doctor.

Follow these tips when choosing a doctor for your baby:

  • Trust your instincts: Many premature babies spend a lot of time in the doctor's office. Between well baby checkups, monthly RSV prevention shots, and sick visits, you may feel like you spend more time with your pediatrician than your friends! Your visits will space out as your baby grows, but it's important to find a baby doctor who you like and trust. If you distrust your pediatrician or feel like you're not on the same page, then you might miss important details about your baby's care.
  • Look for a separate waiting area: Premature babies have immature immune systems, and they're at risk for RSV, flu, and other illnesses that bring kids into the pediatrician's office. To keep your baby away from other children's germs, look for a pediatrician that has a separate waiting area for infants or who will allow you to wait in the exam room.
  • Ask about experience with preemies: Preemies are at risk for a number of long-term health problems, so it's best if your baby's doctor has experience with premature babies. Ask your baby's doctor and nurses in the NICU if they have any recommendations, or talk to other NICU parents about what doctors they've used in the past.
  • Seek out a medical home: A patient-centered medical home is not a specific place, but a philosophy of health care that encourages partnerships between patients, their various doctors, and their families. Ask your baby's doctor if he or she participates in this type of care. Medical home doctors are better able to communicate with each other to help coordinate treatment together.

Other Doctors for Your Premature Baby

Finding a good pediatrician or family practice doctor for your premature baby is important, but is only one of the many doctors your premature baby may need to see during the first year or so. Depending on how early your baby was and how complicated his or her healthcare needs are, you may need to take your baby to see a number of specialists.

If you're not sure if your baby needs to see one of these specialists, ask your baby's doctor. If your baby is still in the NICU, talk to a neonatologist.

If your baby has been discharged from the NICU, then talk to your pediatrician or family practice doctor about your concerns. Once you visit one of these specialists, then ask that doctor about your baby's plan of care and how many visits your baby will need.

  • Cardiologist: If your baby had heart problems, such as a patent ductus arteriosis (PDA), then your baby's doctor may recommend that you follow up with a cardiologist, or heart doctor, after NICU discharge.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in the brain and nervous system. If your baby had an intraventricular hemmorrhage (IVH), is at risk for cerebral palsy (CP), or had other neurological complications in the NICU, you may need to see a neurologist.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist is a lung doctor. Many premature babies who needed respiratory support in the NICU, especially babies who are still on oxygen when they are discharged from the hospital, will need to see a pulmonologist.
  • Ophthamologist: An ophthamologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who specializes in diseases of the eye. This is different from an optometrist, who diagnoses eye disorders such as glaucoma and prescribes glasses. Your baby may have an eye exam by an ophthamologist both in the NICU and after discharge to look for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist (or GI doctor) studies the digestive and intestinal tract. Babies with severe reflux may need to see a gastroenterologist for treatment.

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