Checkups are the cornerstone of good health, and in your baby's first couple of years she'll have plenty of them, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least nine from birth to 18 months. Checkups are the best way to ensure a child is growing and developing as she should. But they're more than that: Routine visits to the pediatrician give parents the opportunity to learn how to keep their kids healthy and safe and to have all their medical questions answered. I've been on both sides of this process, as a pediatrician who's conducted thousands of examinations over the past 40 years and as a father of eight. Based on my experience, I've come up with these tips to ensure a successful visit to the pediatrician.
- Time it right Don't make an appointment that will coincide with your child's naps or meals, and avoid periods when he tends to get fussy. Feed him beforehand or pack snacks. Find out when the office is least likely to be busy, and, if possible, schedule checkups during these off-peak times so you don't have to wait long.
- If you need extra time, say so A problem like poor eating habits or developmental delays may require a little more attention, so be sure to alert the office staff when you're making an appointment that you have an important issue to discuss.
- Dress baby for success Avoid multilayered outfits or clothes with lots of snaps and buttons. Many toddlers don't like having their shoes taken off, so opt for slip-ons and remove them yourself before the exam.
- Be your child's advocate If you know your toddler is spooked by the scale, ask the nurse to hold off weighing her until the end of the physical. If she hates to have her clothes removed, see if the doctor can perform most of the exam while she's still dressed and in your arms or lap.
- Bring photos or videos Snap a photo with your smartphone to show the doctor just how bad the rash was two days ago. Or use a Flip video camera to record your baby's colicky cries. I've found these tools highly useful in diagnosing and treating patients in my own practice.
- Write it down Bring a list of questions so you don't forget anything important you want to discuss. You may also find it useful to bring a pad and pen to help you remember the doctor's answers and instructions after you leave.
- Speak freely There's no such thing as a silly question. If you want to know whether something is normal or whether your child should have a new test or vaccine you've read about, just ask. Part of the purpose of these well-baby checkups is to get information and reassurance from your doctor.
- Prepare to report Be ready to answer questions on general topics, such as how your child is sleeping, what and how much he's eating and whether his health or behavior has changed since his last visit. You'll also be asked age-specific questions about milestones like walking and talking.
- Be honest If your child isn't sleeping enough or is eating too much junk food, fess up; your doctor can make accurate judgments only if you tell him the truth.
- Don't worry, be happy Mothers mirror what I call exam anxiety. Instead of being anxious yourself, quickly engage the doctor with “happy to be here” greetings and facial gestures. When baby senses the doctor is a mom-approved person, she'll be more cooperative.
Questions you may want to ask your baby's doc:
Is my child growing as expected?
Are his immunizations up to date?
What changes should I see during his next stage of development?