When asked why their child is going to the doctor, parents usually answer, “Oh, it’s nothing, just a checkup.” But well-child checks (WCC) aren’t “nothing”—they are an important building block in the lifelong health and wellness of babies, children, and teens. Well-child visits are opportunities to track your child’s physical, emotional, and social development.
What is a well-child check?
“A well-child check is a time for a clinician to check in with the child and their family regarding their health and well-being,” says Natalie Ikeman, MPAS, PA-C, a physician assistant with Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Physical health is checked with an exam but also social, developmental, and emotional health are checked through forms and a discussion.”
Your physician will discuss safety, nutrition, and family dynamics at the appointment. A good WCC can give your pediatrician an overall picture of a child’s well-being.
Why are well-child checks important?
As the name implies, well-child visits are a time for dialogue between patients, families, and their healthcare providers. They give the healthcare provider a chance to make sure children are healthy and developing as expected. They provide the opportunity for parents to ask a doctor any questions or raise concerns they have regarding their children.
Well-child checks help catch problems when they start and prevent them from becoming more serious. “This is the key time to discuss preventive measures to prevent many of the chronic diseases of adulthood now prevalent in the pediatric population (obesity, hyperlipidemia, anxiety, depression, nutrition deficiencies, dental disease),” says Martha E. Rivera, MD, a pediatrician with Adventist Health White Memorial in Los Angeles.
It’s important to keep up with these routine checkups to avoid missing the warning signs of something that could become a problem. “It is always better to be proactive rather than reactive,” says Jeffrey S. Gold, MD, the founder of Gold Direct Care.
At what ages are well-child checks performed?
Generally speaking, well-child checks are done at the following ages:
- Within the first week after birth
- 1 month
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
- 12 months
- 15 months
- 18 months
- 24 months
- 30 months
- 36 months
- At least yearly from age 3 to 21
What should you expect at the well-child check?
Some things happen at each visit regardless of age. Children are measured and weighed. “The pediatrician is able to follow a child’s growth on a standardized chart, which is helpful in assessing overall health as many health problems for kids will show up as problems with growth,” says Sara Silvestri, MD, FAAP, a Pennsylvania pediatrician and the founder of The Adoption Doc. “There will also be an assessment for developmental milestones, which is important as some delays can be corrected and children do best if therapy is started early.”
Visits at all ages can include:
- Head-to-toe exam with immunizations and lab tests (as needed)
- Checks on development and growth
- Hearing and vision assessments
- Educational information about good physical and mental health
- Discussions about safety and prevention
- Time to ask a doctor and get answers about your child’s health, behavior, and development
- Time to talk about the child’s learning, feelings, relationships, parenting, and caregiver well-being
Some things are more age-specific. Dr. Silvestri breaks some of them down:
- For infants, discussions about feeding, sleeping, developmental milestones
- For 9-12 months and 18-24 months, lead and hemoglobin testing
- For 18-24 months, autism screening
- For 3 and up, yearly, hearing and vision tests
- For 9-11 and 17-19, lipid screening
- For 11-12 and up, yearly, depression screening
Parents may be asked to leave the room during adolescent appointments so that teen patients can speak with their healthcare providers privately. This is to give teens an opportunity to ask questions or bring up concerns they may not wish to discuss in front of their parents.
An important function of regular well-child checks from an early age is to foster a relationship between healthcare providers and young patients. This helps to establish a level of comfort that allows adolescents to address their potentially uncomfortable concerns.
What are some questions to ask at well-child visits?
There are no silly questions, and no concern is too small. Your healthcare provider is prepared to answer anything you have to ask them. If you are stuck for where to start, here are some suggestions:
The first year
- What safety measures should I be taking, such as baby proofing, safe sleep practices, etc.?
- What milestones should I be looking for and when?
- How many wet/soiled diapers should my baby have?
- Which vaccinations are given when?
- What are some ways to prevent my baby from contracting contagious illnesses?
- When and how do I introduce solid foods?
- How often/how much should my child be eating?
- What vaccinations are given when?
- What foods should my child be eating?
- Which behaviors are typical and which ones require a doctor’s visit?
- What milestones should I be looking for and when?
- What can I do to start preparing my child for daycare or school?
- How can I tell if my child is being bullied, and if so, what should I do?
- How much exercise should my child be getting?
- How much screen time is acceptable?
- What do I need to know about puberty when it comes to my child?
- How do I discuss big issues—such as peer pressure, sex, drugs, smoking, etc.—with my tween?
- What hygiene habits should my child adopt as an adolescent?
- How can I help keep my teen safe?
- What resources are available to teens if they need them? You could step out of the room for the provider to answer.
- Can you answer any questions my teen has? You could step out of the room for your teen to ask questions directly to the provider.
Things to remember
It is helpful to write down your questions ahead of time and to bring a notebook and pen to keep track of any information your child’s healthcare provider gives—like height and weight, so you can adjust things like medications and car seats accordingly.
Even if your child seems to be healthy and developing typically, keep the regular appointments and go to them. There are routine vaccinations your child needs to be fully protected through adulthood. Some issues might not be obvious to you, but your healthcare provider will recognize them.
While there are guidelines, all children develop in their own way. If you see something that concerns you, don’t panic. Instead, ask your healthcare provider about it. Your healthcare provider is on your team, and will work with you to ensure your child is doing well.