The First Pediatrician Visit
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Your baby should have their first well-baby visit at the pediatrician's office 3 to 5 days after birth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). After that, you'll be going in for checkups every few months over the course of the first year. Since your baby's first pediatrician visit might be the first time your newborn leaves home, it's natural to feel some trepidation. But remember that this visit is often empowering and informative for new parents. Read on to learn what to expect during your baby's first pediatrician visit, from exams to vaccinations as well as tips for timing and preparation.
There Will Be Paperwork
Be prepared to fill out paperwork when you arrive. Remember to pack the following:
Your ID and health insurance card
Information about your newborn's discharge weight
Any complications during pregnancy or birth
Your family's medical history
Knowing that your older child has asthma or your parents have diabetes, for example, focuses your pediatrician's attention on likely problems, says Christopher Pohlod, D.O., assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The Nurse Will Do Some Exams
A nurse will probably handle the first part of your baby's exam. They'll do the following:
Weigh your naked baby on a scale
Extend their limbs to measure height and width
Use a tape measure to determine the head circumference
According to the AAP, it's normal for babies to lose weight after birth (up to 10% of their body weight). But they'll generally gain it back within a couple of weeks.
You'll Get to Know the Doctor
The pediatrician will examine your baby, educate you about their health, and answer any questions. One of the biggest components of the first pediatrician visit is developing a relationship with your child's new doctor. They will be a source of information, support, and troubleshooting in the many years to come.
They'll Check Your Baby's Neck and Collarbone
At your baby's first pediatrician visit, a health care provider will feel along your baby's neckline to check for a broken collarbone. That's because some babies fracture their clavicle while squeezing through the birth canal.
If your pediatrician finds a small bump, that could mean a break is starting to heal. It will mend on its own in a few weeks. In the meantime, they may suggest pinning the baby's sleeve across their chest to stabilize the arm so the collarbone doesn't hurt.
They'll Check Your Baby's Head
A pediatrician will also palm your baby's head to check for a still-soft fontanel. They will do this at every well visit for the first one to two years.
Your baby's head should grow about 4 inches in the first year, and the two soft spots on their skull are designed to accommodate that. But if the soft spots close up too quickly, the tight quarters can curb brain development, and your child may need surgery to fix it.
They'll Check Your Baby's Hips
The doctor will roll your baby's hips to check for signs of developmental hip dysplasia, a congenital malformation of the hip joint that affects 1 in every 1,000 babies. You can expect this exam starting at your baby's first pediatrician visit and every visit until your baby can walk.
"The exam looks completely barbaric," says Vinita Seru, M.D., a pediatrician in Seattle. "I tell families what I'm doing so they don't think I'm trying to hurt the baby."
If your pediatrician feels a telltale click from the hips, they'll order an ultrasound. Luckily, when dysplasia is found early, treatment is simple: The baby wears a pelvic harness for a few months.
They'll Check Your Baby's Reflexes
To check for a Moro reflex, a health care provider startles your baby. For the first 3 or 4 months, whenever something startles your infant, they'll fling their arms out as if they're falling. It's an involuntary response that shows your baby is developing normally.
This exam starts at the first pediatrician visit and continues through the first four well-child visits. A health care provider might also check whether your little one grasps a finger or fans their toes after you touch their foot.
They'll Check Your Baby's Pulse
By pressing the skin along the side of the baby's groin, a health care provider checks for your baby's pulse in the femoral artery, which runs up from your baby's thigh. Your pediatrician wants to see if the pulse is weak on one side or hard to detect at all since that may suggest a heart condition.
You can expect this exam at the first pediatrician visit and all baby well visits. Around 1 in 125 babies are diagnosed with a heart defect every year in the U.S.1 This check is a simple way to screen for problems, says Dr. Seru: "When a heart condition is caught early, it can increase the likelihood of a good recovery."
They'll Check Your Baby's Genitalia
Starting at the first pediatrician visit and every well-baby visit after that, a health care provider will check your baby's genitals to ensure everything looks normal.
According to Cinncinati Children's in around 3% of babies with testicles, the testicles don't descend into the scrotum before birth. While the problem usually corrects itself by 3 to 4 months, your doctor will keep an eye on things to see if your baby needs surgical assistance in the future. They will also check for signs of infection if your baby has been circumcised.
In babies with vulvas, it's not uncommon to find labial adhesions. Although the labia should open up over time, adhesions can shrink the vaginal opening and make your baby more prone to urinary tract infections. "If we know that they're there when your baby has a high fever, we look for a UTI first," says Melissa Kendall, M.D., a pediatrician in Orem, Utah.
They'll Ask About Your Baby’s Feeding Patterns
The doctor will want information about your baby's feeding patterns. You don't need to keep super-detailed records, but you should have a general idea of the following:
How often your baby is eating
How long they feed (if nursing)
How much they consume (if bottle-feeding)
This is an excellent time to raise concerns or questions about latching, formula brands, and other feeding issues.
They'll Check Your Baby’s Digestive System
You should have a general idea of how often you change your baby's diapers each day. If your doctor knows the consistency, frequency, and color of your baby's poop, they can better assess their digestive system and nutrient absorption.
They'll Ask About Your Baby's Sleeping Patterns
A health care provider will probably inquire about sleeping patterns at your first pediatrician visit. They'll also make sure you're following safe sleep practices to help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
They'll Review the Childhood Vaccination Schedule
Hospitals usually give babies their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine shortly after birth, but if your baby was born at home or at a birth center, they might receive it at their first pediatrician visit.
Most vaccinations start when your baby is 2 months old, and a health care provider might review the vaccine schedule with you so you're prepared for the many vaccines your baby will receive in the months ahead.
There Will Be Time for Questions
You will cover a lot of ground during your baby's first pediatrician visit. Ask the doctor to slow down, repeat, or clarify information if needed. It's also wise to come prepared with any questions you have.
Here are some examples:
Is this behavior normal?
Is my baby eating enough?
Should their stool look like that?
When should I schedule the next appointment?
What should I expect in the next few days and weeks?
When you have a written list of talking points, you won't worry about your mind going blank if your baby starts to fuss, says Dr. Pohlod.
You'll Schedule Your Next Appointment
The lineup of well-baby checkups during the first year includes at least a half dozen more pediatrician visits: 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months. Before you cry overkill, remember that frequent appointments with your baby's health care provider are the best way to get expert answers to your questions and ensure your child's growth and development are on track.
Keep the doctor's phone number handy, and be informed of what to do and who to contact in an emergency or when you have a question. It's important to be comfortable with your doctor, and seeing them frequently in the first year helps you develop that relationship you may have for years to come.
When you schedule your next appointment, ask about the office's hours of operation, billing policies, and how after-hours communication works.
Tips for Your Baby's First Pediatrician Visit Leaving the house with a newborn isn't easy, and it can be especially stressful when you're on a timetable (like when you're trying to make it to a scheduled appointment). But your baby's first pediatrician visit doesn't have to be super stressful. Here are some tips for smooth sailing:
Plan your time. Ask for an appointment during the least-busy part of the day. You can also see if a health care provider has specific time slots dedicated to seeing newborns. Expect the visit to take about 25 minutes, but plan for waiting and setbacks as well.
Bring a support person. Consider bringing your partner or other primary caregiver to your baby's first doctor appointment. Two people can more effectively care for the baby, remember the doctor's advice, and recall questions you planned to ask.
Dress your baby with the exam in mind. Since the doctor will examine your baby's entire body, dress them in easy-on, easy-off clothing or even just a diaper and comfortable blanket if weather permits.
Be prepared but pack light. Definitely bring a change of clothes, extra diapers, wipes, pacifiers, feeding supplies, and other necessities, but try not to overpack. Ultimately, "warmth, cuddling, loving, and reassuring voices are more helpful than a stuffed animal" at a newborn exam, says Brian MacGillivray, M.D., a family medicine specialist in San Antonio.
Wait in the car, if you can. If you attend the appointment with another person, send them inside to fill out paperwork while you wait in the car with the baby. This limits your newborn's exposure to germs that might compromise their immature immune system. Some offices even have systems in place that allow you to fill out the paperwork online, wait in your car, and receive a text when it's time to go in.
Keep your distance from others. If you must sit in the waiting room, have your baby face the corner. According to Mary Ellen Renna, M.D., a pediatrician from Jericho, New York, the chances of catching sickness are lower if you maintain a three-foot radius from others.