Childhood is prime time for episodes worthy of a doctor visit. Sprains, concussions, and ear infections-to name just a few. A trip to the doctor when your child is well can be just as essential. Periodic well-child visits can alert you to developmental delays and provide valuable parenting advice. They may even help deter critical care, such as hospitalizations.
In a recent study, researchers analyzed the health insurance records of more than 20,000 children younger than age 3½. Their goal: to see if there was a correlation between the number of well-child visits received and the chance for hospitalization.
What did they find? Children who missed half or more of recommended well-child visits were up to two times more likely to require hospital care. The most common reasons: pneumonia, dehydration, and stomach problems. Not surprisingly, children with chronic conditions-such as asthma or heart disease-fared worse. They had up to three times the chance of going to the hospital.
Thankfully, many children are receiving some well-child care. In the latest government report on children's health, an average of 78 percent of parents reported their child had a well-child visit in the past year. Unfortunately, that rate drops as children grow older. One past study found checkups declined significantly after 6 months of age.
You may associate well-child visits with only vaccines and growth charts. But that's only part of their preventive power. They give parents an opportunity to discuss a variety of concerns, including nutrition, sleep troubles, toilet training, and social problems. Doctors can also provide tips on such topics as home safety and child discipline.
Another benefit of a well-child visit is developmental monitoring. While with a child, a doctor may spot problems with playing, speaking, or interacting. Such signs may indicate autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or a learning disability. Identifying children with these problems early can help ensure they receive much-needed care.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends well-child visits at the following ages:
3 to 5 days old
Children ages 3 and older should have an annual wellness check.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.
As a parent, you know your child best. That expertise can be invaluable during well-child visits. Working with your child's doctor, you can help ensure the best care for your child. These tips can help you make the most of each checkup:
Compile a list of any questions or concerns before each visit.
Talk with other caregivers, such as grandparents or babysitters. Ask them whether they've noticed any problems with your child.
Bring a list of your child's current medications, including prescriptions and over-the-counter products. Include vitamins and herbal supplements.
Tote along your child's favorite toy or book. It can help distract your little one if he or she becomes anxious.
Always ask questions if something isn't clear.
Click here for another article on children’s growth and development.
American Academy of Pediatrics - Bright Futures
CDC - Family Health
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development