What to Expect at Your Baby's First Doctor's Appointment

By Jennifer Margulis
author of Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained

"Welcome to Grand Central Station," my friend Linda said, looking serene and happy the day after she gave birth to a healthy little girl. It was true. Between the photographer, the nurses, the doctors, and the phone calls from well wishers, Linda's hospital room was anything but quiet. Some new moms love all the attention. Others breath a sigh of relief when they finally get to take their tiny bundles home.

But, even after you leave the hospital, you will be in close touch with health care providers for the first months of your newborn's life. A pediatrician (and others, if you're at a teaching hospital) will examine your baby at birth and again within 24 hours. Then, if you go home within 48 hours, you will be advised to bring your newborn for a Well Baby visit two to four days after birth, again when he is two to four weeks old, and then at two months, four months, and six months of age.

What About Vaccines?
Currently the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vaccinating infants against hepatitis B, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), tetanus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal infections, and chickenpox. According to the AAP, these vaccines must be given before age two to protect children when they most need it.

Critics of vaccinations are concerned about the connection between vaccines and autism, the adverse side effects (which include death), and the questionable necessity of some vaccines. Brian Hilden remembers his five-year-old daughter's first visit to the pediatrician well. "I was heavily concerned about vaccinations," says Hilden, a property investor in Ashland, Oregon and the father of two. After talking to their pediatrician, researching vaccines, and listening to arguments for and against vaccinating, Hilden and his wife decided to vaccinate Hannah "carefully and sparingly," choosing to forgo the recommended vaccination schedule and to administer only one vaccine at a time.

"I think the motivation for vaccines is not in the best interest of our children," says Hilden, who urges all parents to educate themselves as much as possible. "The dangers of vaccines are underrepresented and under recorded. My advice is read everything you can and make as informed a decision as possible."

You over stuff the diaper bag with a million things you think your newborn might need at the doctor's, spend twenty minutes trying to remember where you put your keys, another twenty changing an unexpected poop that soils all of his clothes, and you are finally on your way. At your baby's first visit your doctor will probably ask you a lot of questions about your pregnancy, labor, and medical history, in case there are any diseases in your family that might affect the baby.

Not that putting clothes on a floppy wiggly newborn is easy under any conditions but try to dress your baby in clothes that are easy to get on and off as you will be asked to disrobe her. Your doctor will do a thorough examination of your newborn, which includes checking the two soft spots on the baby's head, examining the eyes, looking in the ears, nose and mouth, listening to the lungs and heart, testing the hips, looking at the genitals, as well as charting the baby's head circumference, height, and weight.

Your doctor will also test the baby's reflexes. Normal newborns are born with several reflexes which help assure their survival -- though these automatic responses are stronger in some babies than in others. Your doctor might test the baby for the grasping reflex (when your newborn grabs onto something), the rooting reflex (when you brush his cheek, your newborn will turn his head in that direction), and several others. Amazingly, newborns also have a stepping or walking reflex that diminishes when they are a few months old. If you hold them upright they will make a walking motion with their legs.

If you did not have the test done in the hospital, your doctor will probably suggest a PKU, which is a blood test that screens for metabolic disorders and is done by pricking the baby's heal to take a blood sample. Babies also receive routine immunizations at these early Well Baby visits.

Parents can take advantage of Well Baby visits by preparing a list of questions in advance. Newborns don't come with instruction manuals so don't be shy about asking about what is on your mind (is it really normal for newborn poop to look so seedy and for them to open just one eye at a time?).

Jennifer Margulis is a widely published freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Ms Magazine, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Pregnancy Magazine, Parenting, Mothering, Brain, Child, and dozens of other magazines and newspapers. The mother of three, she is also a columnist for the Ashland Daily Tidings and the editor of the award-winning anthology Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People.

Copyright © Jennifer Margulis. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.