What to Expect at Baby's First Doctor Appointment
When is Baby’s First Doctor’s Appointment?
Baby should have her first well-visit appointment 3-5 days after birth, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Ask for an appointment during the least-busy part the day. You can also see if the doctor has specific time slots dedicated to seeing newborns. Expect the visit to take about 25 minutes—but definitely plan for waiting and set-backs as well.
Who Should I Bring?
Consider bringing your partner (or other primary caregiver) to your baby's first doctor appointment. Two people can more effectively take care of Baby, remember the doctor’s advice, and recall questions you planned to ask. It's normal to be nervous, but remember that this visit is both empowering and informative for parents.
How to Prepare Your Baby
Since the doctor will examine your baby’s entire body, dress her in simple clothing or a comfortable blanket. Also bring a change of clothes, extra diapers, wipes, pacifiers, feeding supplies, and other necessities. According to Brian MacGillivray, M.D., who practices in San Antonio, "At a 2-week exam, warmth, cuddling, loving, and reassuring voices are more helpful than a stuffed animal."
Will There Be Paperwork?
Be prepared to fill out paperwork. Remember to pack your insurance card and hospital documents, including information about Baby's discharge weight and complications during pregnancy or birth. Also refresh yourself on your family’s medical history: Knowing that your older child has asthma or your parents are obese, for example, focuses your pediatrician's attention on likely problems, says Christopher Pohlod, D.O., assistant professor of pediatrics in Michigan state university's college of osteopathic Medicine, in East Lansing.
Where Should I Wait?
If you attend the appointment with another person, send them inside to fill out paperwork while you wait in the car with Baby. This limits her exposure to germs that might compromise her immature immune system. If you must sit in the waiting room, have your baby face the corner. According to Mary Ellen Renna, M.D., a pediatrician from Woodbury, New York, the chances of catching sickness are low if you maintain a three-foot radius from others.
Meeting the Nurse
A nurse will probably handle the first part of your baby's exam. She’ll weigh your naked baby on a scale, extend his limbs for measuring height and width, and use a tape measure to determine head circumference. According to pediatricians, it's normal for a baby to lose weight after delivery (up to 10 percent of his body weight), but he’ll generally gain it back before the 2-week visit.
Meeting the Doctor
The pediatrician will examine the baby, educate parents on his health, and answer any additional questions. Read the following slides for more information on the typical procedure for a baby’s first doctor appointment.
Neck and Collarbone Check
What Your Doctor Does: Feels along baby's neckline
When It Happens: Your baby's first office visit
What He's Looking For: A broken collarbone. Some babies fracture their clavicle while squeezing through the birth canal. If your pediatrician finds a small bump, that means a break is starting to heal. It will mend on its own in a few weeks. In the meantime, he may suggest pinning the baby's sleeve across his chest to stabilize his arm so the collarbone doesn't hurt.
What Your Doctor Does: Palms your baby's head
When It Happens: Every visit for the first one to two years
What She's Looking For: A still-soft fontanel. Your baby's head should grow about four inches in the first year, and the two soft spots on her 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.
What Your Doctor Does: Rolls baby's hips
When It Happens: Every visit until your baby can walk
What He's Looking For: Signs of developmental hip dysplasia, a congenital malformation of the hip joint that affects one in every 1,000 babies. "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, he'll order an ultrasound. Luckily, when dysplasia is found early, treatment is simple: The baby wears a pelvic harness for a few months.
What Your Doctor Does: Startles your baby
When It Happens: The first four visits
What She's Looking For: A Moro reflex. For her first 3 or 4 months, whenever something startles your infant, she’ll fling her arms out as if she's falling. It’s an involuntary response that shows your baby is developing normally—and if the response is not there, your baby could have a neurological problem. Your doctor might also check whether your little one grasps a finger or fans her toes after you touch her foot.
What Your Doctor Does: Presses the skin along the side of baby's groin
When It Happens: Every visit
What She's Looking For: A 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. One in 125 babies is diagnosed with a heart defect, and this check is a simple way to screen for problems, says Vinita Seru, M.D., a pediatrician in Seattle. "When a heart condition is caught early it can increase the likelihood of a good recovery."
What Your Doctor Does: Checks your baby's private parts
When It Happens: Every visit
What He's Looking For: Normal genitalia. In up to 4 percent of boys, testicles don't descend into the scrotum before birth. While the problem usually corrects itself by 9 months, your doctor will keep an eye on things to see if your son needs surgical assistance in the future. Your doctor will also rule out signs of infection in a circumcised penis.
In girls, it's not uncommon to find labial adhesions. Although the labia should open up over time, adhesions will rarely 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.
Baby’s Feeding Patterns
The doctor will want information about Baby's feeding patterns. You don’t need to keep super-detailed records, but you should have a general idea of how often your baby is eating, how long (if breastfeeding), or how much (if formula/bottle-feeding). Bring up concerns about latching, formula brands, and other feeding issues.
Baby’s Digestive System
You should have a general idea of how often you change Baby each day. If your doctor knows the consistency and color of your baby's waste, he can better assess her digestive system and nutrient absorption.
Baby’s Sleeping Patterns
Your pediatrician will probably inquire about sleeping patterns. He’ll also make sure you’re following safe practices. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that babies should always sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Shots and Vaccinations
Hospitals usually give babies a hepatitis B shot shortly after birth, but most vaccinations will wait until the baby is 2 months old. Check out this vaccination schedule for more information.
Your pediatrician will cover a lot of ground during your baby's first doctor appointment. Ask the doctor to slow down, repeat, or clarify information, if needed. It’s also wise to come with a list of prepared questions. 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.
Here are some examples:
- Is this behavior normal?
- Is my baby eating enough?
- Should her stool look like that?
- When should I schedule the next appointment?
- What should I expect in the next few days/weeks?
When Should I Schedule My 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, keep in mind that frequent appointments with your baby's doctor are the best way to get expert answers to your questions and to make sure your child's on track both physically and developmentally.
Keep the doctor's phone number handy, and also be informed of what to do and who to contact in case of an emergency or question. It's important to be comfortable with your doctor and to know her philosophy on medical issues, such as vaccinations. Also learn how the clinic operates in regard to hours of operation, billing policies, and so on.