Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written in everyday language.

* This is the Consumer Version. *

Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants

by Deborah M. Consolini, MD

Healthy infants should be seen by their doctor often during the first year of life. Preventive health care 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 (see Physical Growth of Infants and Children) and asks the parents questions about various developmental milestones (see Table: Developmental Milestones From Birth to Age 12 Months). Tests are sometimes done, and during many visits, the doctor vaccinates the infant against various illnesses (see Childhood Vaccination Schedule).

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.

Examination

The infant's length, weight, and head circumference (see Physical Growth of Infants and Children) are measured. The doctor examines the infant for various abnormalities, including signs of hereditary disorders or birth defects.

The eyes are examined, and vision is tested. Infants who are 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, 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 (see Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)).

The doctor checks the infant’s hips for signs that the hip joints are loose or dislocated (developmental dysplasia of the hip—see Limb and Joint Defects). The doctor checks the infant's teeth, if they are present, for cavities and the mouth for thrush, which is a common yeast infection among infants. The doctor also examines the heart, lungs, and abdomen.

Screening

Screening tests are done to assess whether infants are at risk of certain disorders. Blood tests are done to detect anemia or to test for exposure to lead. Hearing tests are done shortly after birth to determine whether an infant has a hearing disorder or hearing loss and are repeated later if new concerns about the infant's hearing develop (see also Hearing Impairment in Children : Screening and Diagnosis).

Safety

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 set.

  • 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, use a firm mattress, do not share a bed, and do not place pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals, or blankets in the crib.

  • 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 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 versus bottle-feeding and give guidance regarding solid foods (see Feeding of Newborns and Infants).

Parents should provide infants with a safe environment they can roam in and explore. Outdoor play should be encouraged from infancy.