According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all children should see the doctor regularly. These well-child visits are a time when parents can check up on their child’s health and make sure that their child is growing and developing normally. Well-child visits usually start a few days after children are born and continue into adulthood.
There are two kinds of doctors who treat children:
- A pediatrician is a doctor who takes care of children when they are born up until they are teenagers. Some pediatricians have experience with specific diseases, such as pediatric cancer.
- A family medicine physician is a doctor who takes care of patients of all ages. Family medicine physicians are trained to take care of children, but also have training in other areas, such as bone health, women’s health, or general internal medicine.
The type of doctor you choose depends on what you’re looking for. A family medicine physician, for example, can care for your child through adulthood. Or you may decide you’d rather have a doctor who specializes just in children.
Start looking for your child’s doctor early, at least three months before your baby is due. Start by checking which doctors are covered under your insurance policy. Then, ask for recommendations from friends, coworkers, and other healthcare professionals. You can also research physicians online; the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians maintain lists of board-certified doctors in your area.
Next, schedule a prenatal appointment (an appointment before your child is born). A prenatal appointment is a great time for you to “interview” your selected physician. When you visit the office and meet with him or her, consider the following:
- What is the doctor’s personality like?
- Is the office staff pleasant?
- When is the office open? How busy are they?
- If your child has an emergency or you need to contact the office after hours, who would take care of that?
During a well-child visit, your doctor will:
- perform a physical exam
- give the child any necessary shots (immunizations or vaccinations)
- track how your child is growing and developing
- talk about illness prevention, diet and physical fitness, and health and safety issues
- talk about how to handle emergencies and sudden illness
Make sure your doctor isn’t doing all the talking. The well-child visit is your best opportunity to bring up any worries about your child’s growth and development, especially if your child is not reaching important milestones. Remember, your doctor may be an expert in children’s health, but you are the expert on your child.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, medical or otherwise. Your child’s doctor can give you valuable advice on how to promote your child’s learning and development, how to potty train, tips on playground safety, and more.
Vaccinations are an important part of your child’s well-child visit. Some parents worry that these shots can lead to developmental disorders, such as autism. But researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have done a number of studies on vaccine use and autism, and they have never found a link between the two. Vaccines are not only safe, but also play an important role in keeping all children healthy.
The CDC provides a recommended immunization schedule here: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/milestones-tracker.pdf.
Your child’s doctor will look at your child’s growth and development at each well-child visit. This includes measuring your child’s weight and height and specific milestones, such as:
At 6 months old
The child should respond to his or her own name, roll over, and have good hand-eye coordination.
At 1 year old
The child should be able to take a few steps and say simple words, such as “da-da” or “ma-ma.”
At 2 years old
The child should be able to say two- to four-word phrases, be more active, and show signs of being ready for potty training.
At 4 years old
The child should be social with other children, print some letters and numbers, and have good language skills.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a recommended schedule of visits for children starting soon after they are born. You should visit a doctor for a well-child checkup:
- at 3 to 5 days after birth
- at 1 month old
- at 2 months old
- at 4 months old
- at 6 months old
- at 9 months old
- at 12 months old
- at 15 months old
- at 18 months old
- at 24 months old
- at 30 months old
- at 3 years old
- at 4 years old
After age 4, a well-child visit should take place every year and should include a physical exam and a developmental, behavioral, and learning assessment.