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The Importance of Well-Baby Visits

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WebMD Magazine - Feature

In your baby's first year, every month brings changes: tiny smiles, budding teeth, and eventually, crawling and walking. During well-baby visits, your pediatrician will check for proper growth and development and answer your questions about eating, sleeping, and vaccinations.

The first exam should be 24 to 48 hours after your newborn leaves the hospital, says pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP. She's a clinical instructor at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA and author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers.

Later visits typically happen at 2 weeks and at 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 months of age, she says. Here's what you can expect during well-baby checkups.

Baby Growth

During each visit, the doctor will measure your infant's weight, length, and head circumference. "I examine every baby from head to toe," Altmann says. "The first year is such a crucial time, and we want to make sure that babies are on track and doing everything that they should be."

The doctor will make sure that the fontanels (soft spots on your baby's head) are closing properly. She will also check your infant's eyes, ears, and mouth and listen to the heart and lungs. Next, the doctor will feel your baby's abdomen and check the genital area. She'll also look for rashes and jaundice and examine the arms, legs, and hips.

While every parent loves a checkup that ends with a clean bill of health, the exams are crucial to uncover problems, such as hernias, undescended testicles, or heart murmurs that require a specialist's attention. Spotting health problems early may mean improved treatment, Altmann says. For example, she says, "there's something called congenital hip dysplasia where the hip doesn't develop properly in the socket, and if you catch it early, it's something that is completely correctable."

Doctors also look for developmental markers at each visit, she says, such as your baby's ability to make eye contact, smile at you, or sit up without support.

Baby Vaccinations

Your baby will get the first recommended vaccination, the hepatitis B vaccine, before leaving the hospital, Altmann says. At later well visits, your baby will receive vaccines to prevent whooping cough, mumps, measles, and other childhood diseases.

Questions for Your Pediatrician

New parents may find themselves tuned in to when their baby needs a diaper change, or they may need a seasoned pro to guide them through the trials of cradle cap and trimming tiny fingernails. Certainly, if parents are worried that their baby seems ill, they should call the pediatrician any time of day or night, Altmann says.

But well visits are the perfect time to pick the doctor's brain. You just might learn that sticky or seedy bowel movements are normal in the early weeks, or that filing your baby's fingernails works just as well as cutting them.

Expert Tip

"Remember, no matter how old your baby is, she loves to hear your voice. Talk to her, sing to her, read to her. Your words will help her language blossom." -- Hansa Bhargava, MD

Reviewed on January 28, 2013

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