During these frequently-scheduled “well-baby” visits, your pediatrician focuses on your child’s development, not on treating an illness.
All parents understand the need to see a pediatrician when their babies are sick. But new moms and dads should be prepared for more frequent trips to the pediatrician than they may have anticipated. This is because pediatrician visits are just as important for healthy babies as for those who are ailing.
Even babies who seem perfectly healthy go to the doctor a lot. That’s because the first two years of a baby’s life are of prime importance in terms of growth and development, and a pediatrician must keep very close tabs on the baby’s progress. Parents can plan on spending more time in the doctor’s office during those two years than they ever will again.
The first exam should happen 24 to 48 hours after a newborn leaves the hospital. Follow up visits are usually scheduled at two weeks, then at 1, 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months of age. These early appointments, that are unrelated to specific illness, are called well-baby visits.
What happens during a well-baby visit?
During a well-baby visit, your pediatrician will want to make sure that your baby’s weight, growth and development are advancing normally. The doctor will check to see that your baby is eating and sleeping properly, and look for problems like jaundice, heart murmurs or other difficulties which may not be apparent in the first few days of life.
Your baby will also be thoroughly examined for abnormalities of the liver, kidneys and spleen, lungs, eyes, ears and mouth. The skin will be checked for birthmarks or rashes, and the size and shape of the head, neck, collarbone, hips and legs will be checked as well. Every detail of your baby’s development will be entered into his or her chart.
Besides these critical examinations, well-baby visits are valuable for helping you understand and prepare for the next stages of development, and to get answers to any questions you may have as a parent. And since he or she is doing the exam without the distraction of treating an illness, you and your pediatrician can focus more on your baby’s wellness together.
Why is it necessary to have such frequent exams?
Your baby's body and mind are changing at a very rapid pace, and frequent checkups can quickly uncover anything that doesn’t seem normal. And it is much more advantageous to detect problems early, because they are that much easier to resolve. Finally, these regular visits will coincide with the schedule of immunization shots your child will be given: vaccines for whooping cough, measles, mumps and other diseases.
How should parents prepare for well-baby visits?
Consider preparing a list of questions before your baby's visit. It's often handy to write the list down so you don't forget anything. Topics to think about are developmental milestones, nutrition, safety and your family’s emotional well-being. Your doctor should be able to give you good advice on these and other topics. For examples, check out the health guidelines for well-child care, called Bright Futures, provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
These guidelines can provide food for thought about what you may want to ask about during your baby's visit; but remember, well-baby visits are the best times to bring up any questions and concerns you have – before there’s a problem. These visits help you and your baby's pediatrician get to know each other better, helping make you a great team in support of your baby's health.
Wilfredo Alejo, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at St. Jude Heritage Medical Group.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.