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Your guide to well-baby visits

There's nothing more exciting than bringing home your bundle of joy. While the first couple of months may be filled with plenty of filthy diapers and sleepless nights, they're also filled with many special moments that you'll treasure. However, one of the most crucial parts of having a child is keeping him/her healthy. As a parent, you’re an important component of your baby’s overall health and wellness. This includes planning trips to see your child’s pediatrician for “well-baby” visits. But what exactly are these visits, and why does your baby need them?

What are well-baby visits and why are they necessary?

Well-baby visits with your pediatric health care provider allow you to check in regularly to make sure that your little one is growing, feeding, sleeping, and developing as he/she should and that he/she is getting all the vaccines required.

These visits will also allow you to ask all the questions you may have about your little one – what to do about all the crying, how much sleep he/she should be getting, how much he/she should eat, and so on – that you may have kept to yourself since your last visit.

When should I expect my little one’s well-baby visits to happen?

Your baby’s first checkup will take place at the hospital. After that, well-baby visits are scheduled to look something like this:

  • During the first week, usually a few days after you’ve been discharged
  • First month
  • Second month
  • Fourth month
  • Sixth month
  • Ninth month
  • Twelfth month
  • Fifteenth month
  • Eighteenth month
  • Twenty fourth month

This is a schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), but don't be surprised if your baby's doctor varies it (some health care practitioners, for example, choose to skip the ninth-month check-in). This may seem like a lot of trips to the doctor solely for wellness, without even factoring in those unprecedented visits for upset tummies and fevers. 

However, well-baby visits are worthwhile – not only for the reassurance that your little one is happy and thriving but also for the peace of mind of knowing that your pediatrician will be able to identify and treat any arising issues before they get worse. Plus, you will be able to stay on top of all the recommended immunizations to ascertain your baby’s (and that of other kids in your community) health.

What to expect at well-baby visits

Though every well-baby visit may be a little different, your doctor will likely do the following at each visit:

  • Allow you to ask any baby-related questions that you might have
  • Ask about how you and your little one are doing, and about your baby’s sleeping, feeding, and development
  • Measure your baby’s weight, length, and head circumference. These measurements will then be plotted on a growth chart to track your little one’s progress.
  • Complete a physical exam that will involve checking your baby’s:
    • Heartbeat and breathing
    • Belly
    • Legs, arms, hips, spine, and back to confirm that they’re moving and developing normally
    • Eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and throat
    • Skin tone and color
    • Fontanelles (these are the soft spots on the baby’s head)
    • Neck and arms, gently feeling the lymph nodes located there
    • Reflexes that are specific to your baby’s age

Before you head home, your doctor will administer any scheduled vaccines. This may be the last thing that your doctor does so that your little one will be as happy and relaxed as possible.

Tips on how to make the most of well-baby visits

  1. Timing is key

    You may not always be able to schedule well-baby visits to avoid mealtimes and naptimes, but if you can, try to arrange to have your appointments when your little one is likely to be well-fed, well-rested, and at his least cranky.

    2. Pick an outfit that is easy to put on and take off

      Your baby will be getting undressed for his/her checkup, so you want to choose an outfit that is easy to take off and put back on. Look for onesies that have zippers on the front, or varieties with strategically placed snaps

      That onesie with lots of buttons may look adorable on your little nugget, but it won’t be so cute when you’re in a rush and your baby starts to get fussy or squirmy. You’ll also want to steer clear of snug clothes that are difficult to pull over your baby’s head.

      3. Come up with a checklist

      Put all the items you plan to take with you in order with the help of a checklist so that you don’t have a mad rush when the time comes to head to the hospital. Here are some essentials you may want to take with you:

      • Diapers and wipes
      • A change of clothes
      • Burp cloths
      • A favorite comfort object (this may be a toy, book, or blanket)
      • Snacks, if your little one is already on solids
      • Snacks for you
      • A pacifier and/or teething ring
      • A bottle of formula or milk, if you're bottle-feeding
      • A nursing cover
      • Up-to-date insurance information

      4. Keep a list of your concerns

      You want to write down any non-urgent concerns and questions so you’ll have them ready when the doctor invites them. From "Should I wake my baby to feed him?" to "what does the color of my baby's poop mean?" and “is it okay to hold my baby all the time?” well-baby visits give you the chance to get the reassurance and advice you’re seeking.

      5. Have some answers as well

      You know your baby best. That is why your health care provider will expect you to rattle off a list of all of his/her milestones. To make this easier, consider using a tracking up (or simply keep a note on your phone) to help you track your little one’s daily activities and achievements.

      Final thoughts

      Well-baby visits allow you to address your concerns –parents are usually the first to detect an issue – and to get comfortable with your pediatrician before you have to bring your little one in with a cough or rash. Go into the visit with any questions you might have and an open ear.

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