Your baby’s first checkup will usually be held a week after his or her birth. Here we try to understand what to expect, and look for, during the first of several routine visits to your baby’s doctor.
A week after your baby is born, it’s time for his first trip to the pediatrician, referred to as a well-baby checkup. Although newborns usually have their very first checkup at the hospital as soon as they are born, regular pediatric visits begin a week after birth. Most doctors schedule the visit 5 to 7 days after the birth. For most moms and their infants, this can be termed as the very first outing after childbirth!
Before you go to the doctor, jot down each and every doubt you have in mind. Do not hesitate to ask the doctor anything, you are expected to be full of concerns regarding your little one, however trivial they might seem, and doctors are there to help. Also, be prepared to answer a lot of questions the doctor will ask you about your baby.
What Happens During the Checkup
The doctor or pediatrician will weigh the baby and measure the height, plotting it on the growth chart to verify if the growth pattern is as expected. He will conduct a thorough head-to-toe physical examination of your infant, starting with:
The circumference of the head is measured and compared with the reading at birth to see if the baby is growing normally. He will also feel the soft spots on the baby’s head, called fontanels, along with the shape of the head. If he finds flat spots on the head, he may recommend you to change the position of the head when the baby is asleep while keeping the baby on a soft but firm mattress. Extended tummy time when the baby is awake is usually recommended by doctors to help reduce flat spots.
With an ophthalmoscope, the doctor will inspect the eyes for any discharge, blocked tear ducts, and yellow eyes, an indication of jaundice. Your baby is still too small to focus on an object, so the doctor may question you if you have noticed your baby exhibiting cross-eye, a symptom which clears itself as your baby grows and his vision gets more pronounced.
The doctor will use an otoscope to check your baby’s ears for their shape, and any fluid discharge or infection.
The sucking reflex is checked by placing a finger or pacifier in the baby’s mouth. The doctor will also check the baby’s rooting reflex and see if the baby turns his head toward the hand by gently stroking his cheek. The doctor may also look for indications of oral thrush, a common yeast infection in infants that can be easily treated.
The heart and lungs are inspected by placing a stethoscope on the chest and listening to the heartbeats. The doctor will also look for respiratory problems such as difficulty in breathing or any unusual heart rhythms.
While inspecting the skin, the doctor will check for common skin eruptions like rashes and birthmarks. A few babies develop jaundice at birth, which goes away within a week or two. At the first checkup, he may check if the skin is turning yellow, a sign of jaundice. In case you have noticed signs of cradle cap (inflammation of the scalp) and diaper rash, this is the time to ask the doctor for a remedy.
If the umbilical cord has dried completely and fallen off, the doctor will check if the belly button is healing and free of infection. Gently squeezing your baby’s abdomen will alert the doctor for signs of enlarged organs and umbilical hernia.
The doctor will move your infant’s legs around to check for dislocated hip joints.
For boys, the doctor checks if the testicles have descended into the scrotum, and checks if the baby has not developed a disorder called hydrocele, in which fluid accumulates in the scrotum. In the event of a circumcision at birth, he will make sure the skin is healing properly. He will also look for indications of inguinal hernia, a type of hernia more commonly seen in boys than girls. In case of girls, he might ask you if you have noticed a vaginal discharge.
Apart from the above examination, the doctor might administer a hepatitis B shot to the baby if he has not received one at birth, evaluate your baby’s reflexes, make observations on the interaction parents have with the baby, and offer general tips on upbringing and care of a newborn. Additionally, a heel prick test is done and blood sample collected to test for phenylketonuria, a genetic disorder which can cause extensive brain damage if left untreated. Most importantly, the baby is started off with the immunizations, and a record of the immunizations he has received since birth, and a schedule of all shots he will receive in the future is given to the parents.
Questions the Doctor may Ask You
There will be a horde of questions the doctor will want to ask you, regarding your baby’s sleep cycle, bowel movement, feeding schedule, etc.
- How often does the baby sleep? How alert is he when he is awake? Is he more awake during the day or night?
- How often does he cry? Does the crying stop if he is picked up? Does he like to be held, or is he content lying on his back?
- How does he respond to your (primary caregiver’s) voice? Does he turn his head in that direction? Does he focus his eyes on your face if you hold your face close to his?
- What is his feeding schedule? How often does he feed? Is he on formula or is he breastfed? What kind of formula are you giving him? (If you are breastfeeding, he may want to know if you are taking any vitamins/medications. He may suggest you start the baby off on a multivitamin as well.)
- Does your baby have regular bowel movements? How often do you need to change the diaper? (Often, hospitals advise parents to maintain a chart regarding the baby’s bowel movements right from birth till the first well-baby visit; so if you have one, show it to the doctor.)
Questions You may Ask the Doctor
Now is the time to put forth all your doubts and worries. Do not hesitate to open up and ask the doctor about every small thing that is bothering you. It can take a few weeks before you notice your baby (and you) falling into a regular routine. You could be battling postpartum depression, so talk to the doctor how to best deal with it. No doubt, you would have received loads of advice from well-wishers on how to bring up the baby, and too much of it can be confusing, and the best person to sort your queries is the doctor.
As a new parent, you may face difficulty feeding and comforting your newborn, ask the doctor for some tips. A few questions new parents have are:
- How often should I feed the baby? How do I look for baby’s hunger cues? How do I know if he is full or whether he is hungry for more?
- What should be done once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off? How do I clean and protect the abdomen?
List of Things to Carry Along for the Well-baby Checkup
Here is a list of essentials you must remember to take with you on the visit.
- The doctor will undress the baby for the checkup, so carry a blanket to keep your baby warm.
- If your baby is formula-fed, carry formula and water with you. You never know how long you may need to sit in the waiting room outside, so it’s advisable to carry enough formula along. And yes, do not forget extra diapers, baby wipes, and a spare set of clothes!
- Also get the insurance card and the hospital records provided to you at the time of discharge.
- Take the list of questions you have noted down to ask the pediatrician concerning the overall health of the baby.
- My baby cries uncontrollably at times. What are the possible reasons? How do I pacify him?
- My baby sleeps too much (or too little). What do I do?
- Should I bathe the baby everyday?
- Is it alright if I take my baby out, say for a trip to the local store, or to visit someone’s house?
- When is the ideal time to put my baby in daycare if I need to get back to work soon?
And now, before you set off for the first ever doctor visit, stock the diaper bag with the items mentioned below.
It is advisable to have plenty of time on hand before you leave to visit the pediatrician. Remember you have a newborn with you who does not yet have a set routine, which means that you and your baby are still getting used to each other. Don’t be taken aback if you find out it takes quite some time to buckle up a wriggly infant in his car seat and settle yourself in! And before you leave the doctor’s office, schedule the next appointment.
It is a good idea to ask the office who can be contacted in case of an emergency, if the doctor is away. Even though you baby seems happy and healthy, regular well-baby visits are important as they help you keep track of your baby’s growth and development. Being prepared for your baby’s first checkup and knowing what to expect will certainly make your trip to the doctor a smooth ride.