Your Guide to Baby’s First Check-Ups

Here's what to expect at your child's well-baby exams


Well-baby appointments offer key tutorials in that crash course known as Parenting 101.

Most infants have their first well-baby exam within days of coming home from the hospital, with a series of follow-ups, usually, at two, four, six, nine, 12, 15, 18  and 24 months. Well-baby exams allow your infant’s doctor to confirm that your baby is healthy and developing properly, but also to ensure you’re adjusting to your new role too.

“Parenting an infant has a huge learning curve; your health-care provider or family physician can give advice on how to interact with your newborn and help with the bonding period right after birth. There’s so much happening in the first weeks and months of your child’s life,” says Dr. Keyna Bracken, academic family physician at the Stonechurch Family Health Centre and medical director of the Maternity Centre, both in Hamilton, Ont.

Your child’s doctor will look for and discuss developmental milestones, answer your questions and talk with you about infant safety—“everything from appropriate toys and food, to having carbon monoxide detectors in the house,” says Dr. Bracken.

At the Appointment
Every appointment will begin with a weigh-in, measurement and physical exam. Your baby will have to get down to his birthday suit for the exam, so bring a receiving blanket he can lie on for warmth. In addition to scheduled immunizations, your doctor will check the following during a head-to-toe exam:

  • Head (circumference, fontanelles—the soft spots on a newborn’s head—and flattening of the head)
  • Mouth (oral thrush, dental development)
  • Eyes (discharge, tracking)
  • Ears (fluid, infection, general hearing)
  • Chest (listening to assess heart and lung function)
  • Abdomen (tenderness, enlarged organs, umbilical hernia)
  • Hips (testing for dislocation)
  • Genitals (infections, diaper rash, undescended testicles, hernias)
  • Skin and scalp (birthmarks, rashes, jaundice)

Your Questions
As part of the physical, your doctor will have questions for you, in part to check that your baby is reaching appropriate milestones, such as smiling or turning onto his tummy. “I’m looking for interactions between the parent and infant too,” says Dr. Bracken. “Are they comforting the baby, which is so important for attachment and development.”

Parents will get the most out of the appointments when armed with a list of questions of their own (so write yours on a notepad or smartphone to remember them). “Some of my questions were very…let’s just say, ‘simple,’ and I felt foolish asking them, but I always felt relieved after bringing them up,” says Sigrun Wister, a Toronto mom of one. Wister would prepare a list of questions the night before her now-two-year-old son Nigel’s appointments. What kinds of questions? “Sleep questions. A lot of sleep-related questions! Daycare-related questions. Questions about letting him cry it out, which I don’t believe in, and mundane things like diaper rash,” says Wister.

According to Dr. Bracken, other common parental questions include those about:

  • Breastfeeding challenges
  • Skin care and how to identify the cause of rashes
  • Immunizations and any side effects
  • Airplane travel with infants
  • Diet, including how to introduce baby formula
  • And the new-parent classic: “Is this normal?” (an all-purpose query)

No question is out-of-bounds, so ask away! “New parents in particular have a lot of questions with their first child, but even experienced parents have questions, since all children have different temperaments,” says Dr. Bracken.

Booking Basics
Although certain well-baby checkups can be delayed or even considered optional for experienced parents—your doctor can advise you on this—it’s important to see your caregiver for regular, ongoing appointments. Given the nature of well-baby checkups, prioritize finding a family doctor or pediatrician who can work with your child for the long-term. Don’t rely on walk-in clinics—they are not designed for continuity of care or for integrated medical records.

If you don’t have a doctor lined up before your baby is born, ask your health-care provider or hospital staff if they can recommend one who is taking on new patients. Or use the mommy network, as Wister did, to find one in your neighbourhood.

new-baby-ctaThis story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.

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