Poking and Probing
At each visit your pediatrician will give your child a thorough physical examination. Her skin will be checked for birthmarks. Your pediatrician will look at her eyes with a special light to make sure there is a "red reflex" -- the red glow responsible for red eye in photographs. (This indicates that there isn't anything, including cataracts, obstructing her vision.) The shape of your child's head and the size and form of the soft spots will be examined. Your pediatrician will look in the baby's mouth to make sure the palate has formed properly. During a newborn visit, your doctor may also feel the neck and collarbone to see if there is a fracture from delivery, a common complication that heals quickly.
Your doctor will listen to your baby's heart for murmurs and irregular rhythms, check the lungs to make sure they are clear, and examine the nipples for any discharge or swelling (normal in the first weeks of life but not after that). The doctor will feel the abdomen carefully to see if there is any enlargement of organs such as the liver, spleen, or kidneys or any abnormal masses. Then she will stretch your baby's legs to check for a birth defect called hip dysplasia -- a too-shallow hip socket that can cause hip dislocation and affect walking. This maneuver often makes infants cry, but it's an important one. If hip dysplasia is found, putting the baby in a special splint for several weeks to a few months can correct it. As with many problems, finding and treating this defect early prevents complications later on.