Just like your annual physical as an adult, well child exams are an important part of managing and monitoring your child’s health and growth. Although largely centered on the first 15 months of your child’s life, well child exams should be a part of your routine until your child moves on from their pediatrician.
In this blog, Nicolette Marak, MD, of Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics in Hoover, Alabama, discusses what a well child exam is, when they should be scheduled, how to prepare as a parent, and what tests and examinations are performed.
What is a well child exam?
Well child exams are a chance for both you and your child’s doctor to check up on your child’s health and make sure they’re growing and developing normally. U.S. health authorities have found that children who undergo their scheduled well child exams are more likely to be up-to-date on immunizations, have developmental concerns recognized early, and are less likely to visit the emergency department.
Hitting the right dates
The American Academy of Pediatrics sets a basic schedule, called the periodicity schedule, that gives a timetable for when well child exams should be performed. It’s divided into four categories: infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.
Infancy is the busiest period, with your child needing well child exams at the following intervals:
- First week (3-5 days old)
- 1 month old
- 2 months old
- 4 months old
- 6 months old
- 9 months old
This is followed by early child, which has a slightly longer schedule:
- 15 months old
- 18 months old
- 2 years old
- 2 ½ years old (30 months)
- 3 years old
- 4 years old
Well child exams for middle childhood (ages 5-10) and adolescence (11-21) are once a year. Each category may contain different measures. For instance, head circumference is usually tracked for most of infancy and early childhood, but not adolescence.
The parental role
At your annual physical, you likely talk with your doctor about how you’re feeling and any health issues you’ve encountered over the last year. The same is true for a well child exam. You and your child, if they’re old enough, should feel free to discuss the following:
- Growth and development
- Family health
- Everyday life and challenges
- Successes and milestones
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a questionnaire that is helpful in monitoring your child’s health. Dr. Marak recommends you fill it out and bring it to the appointment. Above all, use this time to ask Dr. Marak questions and discuss anything out of the ordinary you may have noticed.
Texts and exams
The physical exam portion of a well child exam typically includes:
- Blood pressure measurement
- Weight and height measurements
- Head circumference
- Body mass index measurement (BMI)
- Listening to the heart and lungs
- Hearing and vision tests
- Examining eyes, ears, teeth and tongue, feet and hands
- Checking the internal organs by feeling the abdomen
- Blood and urine tests to check organ function
The exam portion will also include immunizations if your child needs them.