Your child will be making frequent visits to your pediatrician, especially in his first few years. In addition to giving immunizations, these well child visits are an important way to monitor your child's growth and development. Specific health supervision topics for each visit vary depending on the age and developmental stage of your child.
For newborns discharged in less than 48 hours, the first visit should be within two to four days of life, especially for mothers breastfeeding for the first time.
Children undergo regular checkups from the time they are born up through their first several years of life. During these checkups, children will be weighed and measured to make sure that their physical development is normal for their age group. Children also will be immunized according to a predetermined schedule and will be screened for a wide range of disorders. For instance, they will be screened for blood disorders (e.g., anemia, cholesterol), lead poisoning and nutritional disorders. A physician, often a pediatrician or family practitioner, will also look for signs of illness that can be detected by simply looking, touching and listening to the child's body. It is far better to prevent a disease or condition than to treat it, and better to treat it early before it becomes worse. During a physical examination, the physician will assess a number of areas, including any areas of particular concern.
Certain signs may indicate potential problems with health or development. Parents should inform a physician if their child is 15 months old and does not follow commands or speak, is 18 months old and does not hold a spoon, or is 2 years old and either does not yet speak in sentences of at least two words or shows evidence of deteriorating language or motor skills. Children over the age of 1 who show little interest in other children also may have issues that need further examination.
As children grow older, their physician may use the physical examination as a time to urge them to avoid certain behaviors (e.g., drug or tobacco use, unsafe sex) and to engage in other behaviors (e.g., wearing a helmet while bicycling, exercising). Children may gradually feel more comfortable asking their own questions during the physical examination, including raising any concerns they have about sexual development.
Adolescence is the time when children begin taking more responsibility for their own well-being. During examinations, the physician will become increasingly likely to directly ask the child questions instead of relying on a parent's input. By the time children are in their early teens, they may become more self-conscious about seeing a physician. It often is helpful for children this age to see a physician of their own gender. In addition, children who have been seeing a pediatrician may choose to visit a family practitioner or internist. At some point, many adolescents will request to begin seeing their physician without being accompanied by a parent. In addition, many physicians make it a practice to meet with the adolescent without the parent. This privacy may help both parties discuss sensitive health issues related to sexuality, body image and emotional development.
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