What Doctors Look for at Well-Baby Visits

Regular checkups are important for tracking your baby's health and development.

Growth & Development

Baby lying on back chewing on rubber ducky

"He's in the 90th percentile!" my sister-in-law ecstatically told me over the phone after she had gotten home from my nephew's one-month well-baby checkup. For new parents, there is no better way to pat yourself on the back for a job well done than to hear your pediatrician say, "He's right on target! Keep up the good work!" Growth charts, developmental milestones, and immunizations, oh yes! This is what baby books are made of. What follows is a guide to what you can expect at your baby's checkups.

Growth

The first thing your doctor will check at the well visit is growth. Specifically, he will measure your baby's weight, length, and head size. Next, he will give these measurements a percentile on an age- and gender-specific growth chart. So, for instance, if your infant is in the 60th percentile for length, only 40 percent of babies his age are taller than he is. Keep in mind that anything between the 5th and 95th percentile is considered normal, and sometimes even measurements that fall outside these ranges can be normal, depending on your family traits and whether your baby was born a little early.

It's more important that your child continues to grow from visit to visit than it is which percentile he's in. I always tell parents not to get too "attached" to certain percentiles, either, as they are likely to change a lot over the first 18 months of your child's life. Babies grow most rapidly during the first 6 to 9 months, and then just around the time they start to become mobile with crawling and scooting, their growth slows slightly.

Did You Know? Most babies double their birth weight by 6 months and triple it by 1 year of age. In terms of length, most babies grow between 7 and 10 inches during the first year, and that rate slows down during the second year of life, when they only gain an average of 4 to 5 inches.

Development

The next big part of a well-baby visit is assessing your child's development. At each checkup, your doctor will ask questions about basic milestones, such as smiling, rolling over, and pulling up to make sure your child is on target with normal development. If she is truly behind schedule, it's important that you tell your pediatrician. Developmental delay in one or more areas can be indicative of an underlying neurologic or muscular condition. Many times, however, it's just a case of baby's taking her sweet old time. Your pediatrician will also check some of these milestones by having your baby "perform" tasks on the exam table, such as dangling a toy or shiny object in front of her face at 4 months to see if she reaches for it.

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