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What is a Well-Child Visit and Why Does my Child Need One?

New parents are often vigilant about bringing their babies in for pediatric checkups. These visits often provide reassurance that their children are healthy and developing normally.

But as years go by and parents become more confident in their children’s robustness, well-child visits tend to taper off. Families get too busy to keep up with yearly checkups, and they wind up seeking care only when their children are sick. By neglecting these annual visits, however, they’re missing out on the opportunity for crucial preventive care.

In a given year, only 83 percent of children ages 0 to 17 receive a well-child visit—a 10 percent increase over 1997. Most of these are younger children. Babies and toddlers have the highest rate of wellness exams at 92 percent. By age 6, kids become 20 percent less likely to get an annual checkup.

The likelihood of a wellness exam continues to decrease as children age, with adolescent visits almost non-existent except when the adolescent is sick. Reasons for this may vary, from busy schedules to difficulty accessing medical services.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, families without a medical home are least likely to keep up with their well-child visits. Children who do have a medical home tend to get more checkups, leading to increased immunization rates, fewer sick visits and decreased use  of  antibiotics.

“For parents, this translates to greater satisfaction and a more positive experience, feeling of guidance, decreased worries and fewer missed work days,” says Pamela Henderson, director of a child advocacy nonprofit.

What to Expect

Well-child visits are designed to “emphasize the great importance of continuity of care in comprehensive health supervision and the need to avoid fragmentation of care,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

They typically begin shortly after birth and should continue all the way through adolescence, until the child turns 20. Pediatricians recommend multiple visits per year until age 3 and annual visits for after that.

Each visit includes a complete physical exam, during which the healthcare provider checks your child’s weight, height and other vital information. They’ll also examine your child’s growth and development to identify potential problems. Immunizations, screenings and other preventive care may also be included depending on your child’s age.

0-1 year: Your pediatrician will track your baby’s head growth and ask about eating habits, sleeping habits, urination, bowel movements and behavior. You’ll have the opportunity to seek guidance on when and how to start your baby on solid foods. Most visits during this time include some sort of vaccination.

1-2 years: During the toddler years, your healthcare provider will pay special attention to growth and developmental stages to watch for any unusual developments.

3-5 years: At this age, the pediatrician may begin regularly checking your child’s blood pressure and talking to your child to develop a growing relationship and to listen for speech patterns.

5-12 years: As your child grows older, expect to add a variety of new screenings to the routine, including:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Spinal health
  • Social interaction
  • Home safety
  • Changes in birthmarks

13-17 years: As your child reaches adolescence, healthcare providers may address a variety of topics such as:

  • Physical activity
  • Social interaction
  • Nutrition
  • Depression
  • Puberty
  • Acne
  • Smoking, alcohol and drugs
  • Safe sex

An annual well-child visit plays a crucial role in preventing illness, promoting your child’s well-being, and keeping you informed about your child’s development. Please note that the sports physical that many adolescents receive to play sports in no way replaces the annual physical they should be having with their healthcare provider. Contact a Portland pediatric care provider to learn more.

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