Parents know to take their child to see a doctor when they’re injured or not feeling well, but ongoing preventive care is just as important as any “crisis” appointment.
Sometimes referred to as a well-child visit or simply a “check-up,” annual physicals provide doctors the opportunity to assess your child’s overall health. Here’s a closer look at why these appointments shouldn’t be skipped.
Wellness visits give care providers and parents the opportunity to discuss growth milestones, developmental concerns or issues, and your child’s general health. In addition to answering your own specific questions, the doctor may ask about your child’s sleep habits, diet, and physical activity.
As a child grows, they can start to take autonomy over their health and may ask their own questions at these appointments. These exchanges allow doctors to make sure a child is on track with development, and establish an early, positive relationship. Additionally, physical exams and discussions of any changes or symptoms can help doctors catch potential issues early, when they’re easiest to treat.
Your child’s doctor can also administer any necessary immunizations or discuss your child’s vaccine schedule with you during this time. From birth to the age of 18, the CDC recommends a number of vaccinations and boosters to prevent a wide range of potentially serious illnesses, including hepatitis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, and meningitis.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, what takes place at children’s wellness exams will vary by age. For example, while height and weight are measured at all ages, head circumference may only be measured until the age of three to look for any neurologic or developmental issues. When it comes to height and weight measurements, medical professionals can plot a child’s growth on a chart to compare their development with children of the same age and gender.
The younger your child, the more involved a wellness visit may be. During infancy, for example, a doctor may check your baby’s head for bone formation, look for fluids in your baby’s ear, track eye movements, and assess the hip joints for any problems. They’ll also look in their mouth, listen to their heart and lungs, and check their abdomen. Infant reflexes are also examined during a baby’s checkup to gauge nervous system development.
While doctor visits are frequent during a child’s early life, after the age of three, the schedule changes to annual check-ups.
As your child grows, a provider will still check their vitals, including their pulse, breathing, blood pressure, and temperature. They may also check their vision and hearing. During late childhood and adolescence, providers may use this time to discuss important health and safety issues, such as personal hygiene, avoidance of drugs and alcohol, and the importance of wearing seatbelts and helmets. As they develop into teens, doctors may also provide opportunities for children to have more private conversations about sexual health.