Healthy infants should be seen by their doctor often during the first year of life. Preventive health care visits (also called well-child visits) typically take place within a few days after birth or by 2 weeks of age and at 1, 2, 4, 6, and 9 months of age. During these visits, the doctor uses age-specific guidelines to monitor the infant's growth and development Physical Growth of Infants and Children Physical growth refers to an increase in body size (length or height and weight) and in the size of organs. From birth to about age 1 or 2 years, children grow rapidly. After this rapid infant... read more and asks the parents questions about various developmental milestones (see table ). Tests are sometimes done, and during many visits, the doctor vaccinates the infant against various illnesses (see Childhood Vaccination Schedule Childhood Vaccination Schedules Vaccination protects children against many infectious diseases. Vaccines contain either noninfectious components of bacteria or viruses or whole forms of these organisms that have been weakened... read more ).
Health care visits also allow the doctor to educate the parents about eating, sleeping, behavior, child safety, nutrition, exercise, and good health habits. In addition, the doctor advises the parents what developmental changes to expect in their infant by the next visit.
The infant's length and height Length and Height Physical growth refers to an increase in body size (length or height and weight) and in the size of organs. From birth to about age 1 or 2 years, children grow rapidly. After this rapid infant... read more , weight Weight Physical growth refers to an increase in body size (length or height and weight) and in the size of organs. From birth to about age 1 or 2 years, children grow rapidly. After this rapid infant... read more , and head circumference Head Circumference Physical growth refers to an increase in body size (length or height and weight) and in the size of organs. From birth to about age 1 or 2 years, children grow rapidly. After this rapid infant... read more are measured at every visit. The doctor examines the infant for various abnormalities, including signs of hereditary disorders or birth defects Overview of Birth Defects Birth defects, also called congenital anomalies, are physical abnormalities that occur before a baby is born. They are usually obvious within the first year of life. The cause of many birth... read more .
The eyes are examined, and vision is tested. Infants who were born very prematurely (before the completion of 32 weeks of development in the uterus) usually need more frequent eye examinations by an eye specialist to look for retinopathy of prematurity Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Retinopathy of prematurity is a disorder of premature infants in which the small blood vessels in the back of the eye (retina) grow abnormally. Retinopathy of prematurity is strongly associated... read more , which is an eye disease that occurs when infants are born before the blood vessels in their eyes are fully developed and may result in blindness, and for the development of refractive errors Refractive Disorders in Children In refractive disorders, the eye is not able to properly focus images on the retina, causing blurred vision. Refractive disorders result in blurring of vision. Children may be unable to make... read more , which result in blurring of vision. These disorders are more common among infants who were born very prematurely.
The doctor checks the infant’s hips for signs that the hip joints are loose or dislocated (developmental dysplasia of the hip Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip Developmental dysplasia of the hip is a birth defect in which the bones in the hip are incorrectly developed. Birth defects, also called congenital anomalies, are physical abnormalities that... read more ). The doctor checks the infant's teeth Teeth Physical growth refers to an increase in body size (length or height and weight) and in the size of organs. From birth to about age 1 or 2 years, children grow rapidly. After this rapid infant... read more , if they are present, for cavities and the mouth for thrush Symptoms Candidiasis is infection with the yeast Candida. Candidiasis tends to occur in moist areas of the skin. This skin infection may cause rashes, scaling, itching, and swelling. Doctors examine... read more , which is a common yeast infection among infants.
The doctor also examines the heart, lungs, abdomen, arms and legs, and genitals.
Screening tests are done to assess whether infants are at risk of certain disorders.
Blood tests are done to detect anemia Diagnosis Anemia is a disorder in which there are too few red blood cells in the blood. Anemia can occur when red blood cells are broken down too rapidly, too much blood is lost, or the bone marrow does... read more , sickle cell disease Diagnosis Sickle cell disease is an inherited genetic abnormality of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells) characterized by sickle (crescent)-shaped red blood cells and chronic... read more , and exposure to lead Diagnosis Lead poisoning affects many parts of the body, including the brain, nerves, kidneys, liver, and blood. Children are particularly susceptible because their nervous system is still developing... read more .
Hearing tests are done shortly after birth to determine whether an infant has a hearing disorder or hearing loss (see Newborn Screening Tests Newborn Screening Tests Many serious disorders that are not apparent at birth can nonetheless be detected by various screening tests. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can reduce or prevent many disorders that may... read more ) and are repeated later if new concerns about the infant's hearing develop (see also Hearing Impairment in Children Screening and Diagnosis Hearing impairment refers to any degree of hearing loss, mild to severe, and can occur when there is a problem with a part of the ear, including the inner, middle, and outer ears, or the nerves... read more ).
Infants are screened for tuberculosis (TB) risk factors with a questionnaire at all well-child visits, usually beginning in infancy. Risk factors include exposure to TB, being born in or having traveled to areas of the world where TB is common (countries other than the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and Western and North European countries), having a family member with TB, and having parents or close contacts who are recent immigrants from an area where TB is common or who have recently been in jail. Those with risk factors usually have tuberculosis screening tests Screening Tests for Tuberculosis Tuberculosis is a chronic contagious infection caused by the airborne bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually affects the lungs, but almost any organ can be involved. Tuberculosis... read more done.
At these visits, the doctor gives parents age-appropriate safety guidelines.
The following safety guidelines apply to infants from birth to age 12 months:
Use a rear-facing car seat and place it in the back seat of the vehicle.
Set the hot water heater to 120° F or less.
Prevent falls from changing tables and around stairs.
Place infants on their back to sleep on a firm, flat mattress for every sleep, do not share a bed, and do not place pillows, bumper pads, nonfitted sheets, stuffed animals or other toys, quilts, comforters, or weighted or loose blankets in the crib. (See also sidebar Safe to Sleep: Reducing the Risk of SIDS .)
Do not give infants foods and objects that can cause choking or be inhaled into the lungs.
Do not use baby walkers.
Place safety latches on cabinets and cover electrical outlets.
Remain alert when watching infants in the bathtub or near a pool or any body of water and when they are learning to walk.
Nutrition and exercise
For infants, recommendations for nutrition are based on age. The doctor can help parents weigh the benefits of breastfeeding Breastfeeding Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. Although babies may be fed breast milk or formula, the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend... read more versus formula-feeding Formula Feeding In the hospital, newborns are usually fed shortly after delivery, then ideally on demand thereafter. During the first week after birth, babies take ½ ounce to 2 ounces at a time, gradually increasing... read more and give guidance regarding solid foods Starting Solid Foods in Infants The time to start solid food depends on the infant's needs and readiness. Generally, infants need solid foods when they are large enough to need a more concentrated source of calories than breast... read more .
Parents should provide infants with a safe environment they can roam in and explore. Outdoor play should be encouraged from infancy.
Screen time (for example, television, video games, cell phones and other handheld devices, and noneducational computer time) may result in inactivity and obesity. Limits on the time a child spends using devices with screens should start at birth and be maintained throughout adolescence.