In the first two years of your baby’s life, the pediatrician’s office will seem like a home away from home. You’ll see the pediatrician eight to 10 times over those first 24 months for well-baby visits – and more if your child comes down with a cold or other illness. These appointments are an important part of giving your child a healthy start in life.
“Well-baby visits are designed to accomplish three things,” says Dr. Laurie Campfield, a pediatrician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. “The doctor will check to make sure your baby is healthy and developing well, administer scheduled vaccines and give you, as the parent, a chance to ask questions and address your concerns.”
Examining your baby
Your baby’s examination will include many of the same tests and measurements that you experience during an adult checkup. Variations of this examination will be performed a few days after birth and then at months one, two, four, six, nine, 12, 18 and 24.
“The pediatrician or nurse will undress your baby first, so it’s best to dress her in clothes or swaddling materials that are easy to remove,” says Dr. Campfield. “She’ll be placed on a scale to measure her weight and stretched out to measure her length. They will also measure your baby’s head circumference.”
These three measurements will be tracked throughout the first two years of life (and beyond). Your doctor will compare your baby’s height and weight to standard growth charts to ensure she’s developing as expected.
The pediatrician will then perform a complete physical exam, checking your baby from head to toe. She or he will use a stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs for normal breathing and heart rate. Your baby’s eyes, ears and nose will be checked for signs of normal development and infections. The doctor will check the head for soft spots and shape and the body for muscle tone, reflexes, birthmarks and signs of jaundice.
“During your baby’s first appointments, the doctor will check her belly to make sure the umbilical cord stump has fallen off and the belly button is healing well,” explains Dr. Campfield. “He’ll also press gently on her belly to check for hernias and enlarged organs.”
The doctor will also examine your baby’s genitals to look for normal development. If you have a boy, the doctor will check to see if the testes have descended into the scrotum and the circumcision, if performed, is healing well.
And finally, the doctor will move your baby’s legs to look for problems with the hip joints.
“Another important part of the well-baby visit is getting scheduled vaccines,” adds Dr. Campfield. “While getting a shot is not particularly pleasant for your baby – or you – it’s a critical and safe way to protect your baby from life-threatening and debilitating diseases.”
The vaccine schedule is coordinated with well-baby visits, so your little one can receive their shots when they come into the office for the exam.
Asking questions and getting reassurance
The final important part of the well-baby visit is asking questions. As a new parent, and even if you have other children, you’ll likely have many questions for the doctor about your baby’s health and development. This is your chance to get an expert opinion – no question is too big or too small.
“If it’s possible, bring your spouse or another adult to the appointment,” says Dr. Campfield. “It’s always helpful to have another person who may remember questions you forget to ask and to help comfort your baby during the appointment. Consider making a list ahead of time to make sure you don’t forget to ask any of your questions. Don’t worry if the list is long! No question is too big or too small.”