Why do we need pediatricians?
After your child is born, one of the first doctors you will see for his or her care is a pediatrician. But knowing when to see your pediatrician, and for how long, can sometimes be confusing for young parents.
Pediatrician vs. Family Practitioner
Unlike a family practitioner who typically treats adults over the age of 18, pediatricians generally focus on the physical, mental and emotional well-being of infants, children, teens and young adults until the age of 18 to 21, depending on the doctor. These pediatric doctors work with you to offer advice, prevent illness, and help you foster a healthy lifestyle for your child. They also treat acute (critical) or chronic (long-term) conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.
If your child shows symptoms of a specific condition, your pediatrician may refer him or her to a pediatric specialist for further evaluation. These doctors have specialized training and unique expertise in their area of practice, such as orthopedics (birth defects, developmental disorders) or cardiology (heart disease).
As your child grows and develops, you will likely visit your pediatrician for a number of reasons. Be sure to provide the doctor as much detailed information as possible about your child and any symptoms you’ve noticed. Take time to ask all of your questions, no matter how trivial they may seem. You may want to bring a friend or family member to help you listen and jot down important information. The more you know (and remember) the better you can care for your child at home.
One reason it’s important to take your child to a pediatrician is to monitor his developmental progress or milestones. At each visit, your child will be weighed and measured to evaluate his growth in weight, height, and body mass index (BMI). The doctor will show you how this compares to other kids of the same age and gender so you can gauge how your child is progressing. The pediatrician will also check for any developmental delays. He or she may ask about your child’s behavior at home and observe things like smiling, rolling over, sitting up, language, walking and how she uses her hands and arms. The doctor will also test your child’s reflexes and muscle tone.
Young children have on average 6 to 8 colds a year, and often with them come ear infections. Common signs and symptoms include ear pain, tugging or pulling at the ear, trouble sleeping, crying or acting more irritable than usual, and fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Symptoms generally improve in the first couple of days and often clear up on their own within one to two weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a wait-and-see approach as one option for kids:
6 to 23 months with mild inner ear pain in one ear for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
24 months and older with mild inner ear pain in one or both ears for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
If your child is less than 6 months and showing symptoms of an ear infection, contact your doctor right away. Also contact your doctor if your child is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection, or has symptoms that last for more than a day, severe ear pain, or a discharge of fluid, pus or blood. Your doctor may prescribe treatment, such as a warm compress, pain medication or an antibiotic.
Common Reasons to Visit a Pediatrician
Many parents choose to take their child to see a pediatrician versus a primary care doctor, as pediatricians focus specifically on the health needs of children. Children have their own special and unique needs and pediatricians are specifically trained in understanding these needs, which allows them to offer relevant health care services.
While there are many reasons why people will need to take their child to a pediatric office for care, there are some reasons that are much more common than others.
Common reasons to visit a pediatrician
The following is a list of some of the more common reasons why visiting a pediatrician is necessary.
1. New baby well check
A baby’s first health examination should take place within the first week of their life. The entire appointment tends to take about half an hour as the pediatrician will do a full evaluation of the newborn in order to ensure that all is well.
2. Annual physical exams
Routine physical exams, also known as annual well-child exams, are necessary for all children in order to make sure that they are growing as they should. When visiting a pediatrician for this reason, a child will be physically measured in order to ensure that they are growing up healthy and strong.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a schedule for child immunizations, which needs to be closely adhered to for a child’s good overall health. Immunizations and vaccines start at birth and end at around the age of 18.
4. Ear infections
Research shows that children are significantly more likely to develop ear infections than adults, thereby making it a common reason to visit a pediatrician.
5. Common colds
Many parents take their children to see a pediatrician for a common cold, which is recommended because a common cold comes with many side effects and has the potential to turn into a more serious condition.
6. Sore throats
A sore throat can be a sign of strep throat, which is a bacterial infection and therefore requires antibiotics in order to treat.
7. Behavioral issues
Behavioral issues in children can be first addressed by a pediatrician as this allows parents to understand whether or not their children’s behavioral issues are normal.
8. Nutritional advice
Children tend to be picky eaters, which can make it difficult for parents to make sure that they are getting their recommended daily amount of nutrients. A pediatrician can offer parents the nutritional advice they need so their children can grow up strong and healthy.
What to Expect at the First Pediatrician Appointment
Having a baby is exciting. You have a new little life to take care of. This also means finding a great pediatrician for you and your little one and going to all the scheduled appointments. Infants and small children will need a series of vaccinations and check-ups before their second birthday. A pediatrician will help them gain immunity to diseases, find any issues to work on and make sure that their development is going perfectly. Still, being a new parent can be overwhelming. Knowing what to expect during that first pediatric visit may put your mind at ease.
What to expect
It is natural to feel somewhat nervous about the first appointment. This is a new experience for all first-time parents. The office may ask for some paperwork from the hospital or insurance company during this first visit. The first visit should empower the parents and inform them, as well. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions and have an open conversation with their child’s pediatrician.
How to prepare the child
While too small to understand what is happening, it is important that the baby is dressed in simple clothing. Loose fitting, easy to remove clothing helps the process go smoother. The pediatrician will want the clothing removed so that they can do a full exam. Cuddling, soothing voices, warmth, a change of clothes, diapers and milk are all that is needed during this exam.
The nurse will be the first person seen. They will weigh and measure the baby and then chart the measurements. This is the growth chart that will show at what percentile the baby is measuring. It is normal for babies to lose some of their body weight after delivery but by the second week, they should have gained it all, if not more, back.
The pediatrician is next to come into the room. They will do an exam on the baby and look them over from head to toe. Additionally, they will educate the parents and answer any questions that they may have. This is a good time for new parents to ask as many questions as they can think of. The doctor will want to know how many dirty diapers the baby is having, as well as their feeding schedule. This will give them more information on how well the baby is doing.
Questions to ask the pediatrician
It is important to ask questions to find out more about the pediatrician and what their experience is. Parents can ask these questions in advance so that when the child comes in for an appointment, everyone has an idea of what to expect. Here are some of the more important questions to ask when choosing a pediatrician for autism:
- How long have they been in practice?
- Have they dealt with autism before?
- What has their experience been treating autistic children?
- Do they have any specialties?
- Can they recommend anything specifically for the child?
- What do they enjoy about working with autistic children?
- Do they have a quiet area or somewhere calm for an autistic child to wait before being seen?