It seems obvious to bring your child to the pediatrician when they are sick, but it is equally important to bring your child for separate well-child visits. The need for regular “health maintenance” may not be as obvious to parents of that new, wonderful, and apparently healthy baby!] Well child visits should regularly throughout childhood, and those first visits can be critical for the long-term health of your child. You may be wondering what your health care provider is looking for when you bring your baby to the office.
Discussing concerns: During each check-up, parents will have an opportunity to bring up questions and concerns and receive expert opinion from their pediatrician. Just because parents were a child once, they are not automatically an expert on childcare! All parents encounter unexpected issues. This visit is your time to discuss concerns. Fortunately, most concerns do not require extra tests but when needed, early interventions are the key to good health.
Vital signs and Examination: Your pediatrician will review heart rate, temperature, and other measures of good health like blood pressure, height, and weight.
Tracking growth and development: The pediatrician can give you guidance on how to best encourage your child’s language development, movement, and social growth.
Discussing Behaviors: Your pediatrician can help you appreciate your own child’s unique temperament while helping you understand the broad range of “normal” even if “normal” is challenging!
Providing guidance: Your pediatrician will be able to anticipate some future needs according to each individual child’s age and circumstance. Topics such as injury prevention, family dynamics, dental care and healthy food choices are all part of preventive care.
Building a relationship: An important part of a therapeutic relationship is trust. You may disagree on some of the suggestions made by your pediatrician, but a trusting relationship will go a long way towards helping you and your pediatrician identify the best health decisions, and in the event of significant health, behavioral or developmental problems you will have an expert you trust as your advocate and guide.
An important part of health supervision visits is screening at age appropriate intervals for conditions such as:
Post-partum depression: Your pediatrician will screen for maternal depression. Newborn care is physically and emotionally demanding and taking care of mothers in the early weeks of parenthood can make those special weeks more enjoyable for mothers and much, much more nurturing for infants.
Standardized developmental screening: While your pediatrician will discuss the development of your child at every visit, use of a standardized developmental screening tool such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) is a fun way for you to appreciate what your child is learning and help them with the next steps. If problems are identified in some areas these tools can help your child receive the interventions he needs.
Autism Screening: Sometimes parents are afraid that behaviors may indicate autism. Use of a screening tool such as the M-CHAT is an also an important tool to shape your child’s future success.
Depression Screening: Adolescents may struggle with their feelings and a sense of isolation even in the most nurturing families. A depression screen can be key to a productive adolescence or even life-saving.
Blood tests: Your newborn child will receive a newborn metabolic test after birth and again at two-weeks of age. This screens for genetic disorders. Responding quickly to the presence of a rare disorder may be life-saving for your child. Other blood tests are done at intervals where things like anemia or lead poisoning are common and can be clues regarding your child’s own health needs.
Vaccines: Vaccines give your child protection against many infections. Before vaccines were available approximately half of all children succumbed to illness before they were 5 years of age. Now many of the most serious infections can be prevented-meningitis, polio, whooping cough and soon we hope, COVID-19. Many of these organisms used to be prevalent in the United States but are no longer prevalent due to vaccines.
As a new parent it may feel like your responsibilities are overwhelming, and you are getting lots of conflicting messages. You may not realize that your child is not gaining weight well, or that that bluish color of the lips is concerning. You also may not know what is normal for your child’s behavior at a certain age. A visit with a pediatrician can go a long way to build your confidence and alleviate stress, which is turn is healthy for you AND your baby!
By Adam Stranberg, MD
Resident, Department of Pediatrics
University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB)
By Patricia S. Beach, MD
Co-Director, Division of General Academic Pediatrics
Director UTMB ABC Child Safety and Protection Team
Emeritus Scholar, John P. McGovern Academy of Oslerian Medicine
University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB)
UTMB Health Primary Care Pediatrics
AAP Schedule of Well-Child Care Visits & Benefits
Child Welfare Government Website National Child Abuse Prevention
Prevent Child Abuse America 2020 National Child Abuse Prevention