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Are well child checkups necessary?

Many moms adhere tightly to the recommended well child checkup schedule. Other moms, not so much. We delve into both sides to find out why.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be seen by their physician every few months throughout infancy, and every year once they reach age 2. If you’ve been taking your child to well visits, you know the routine — your child gets weighed and measured, and is given a physical exam while you answer questions about your child’s eating, sleeping and behavior. Well child visits are often followed up with vaccines your child needs. But are they a waste of time?

Some moms think so. Leah, mom of one, only takes her daughter to the doctor if she’s ill. “Olivia is very rarely sick and I’d rather not expose her to germs for the doctor to tell me she’s doing fine,” she tells me. “I already know she is.” Brittany, mom of two, agrees. “I make sure they’re gaining and growing at home,” she says. “If I ever thought something was off I’d take them in, otherwise I sort of feel like it’s a scam.”

Avoiding germs, particularly in the winter months, makes tons of sense and, as a parent, you know your child so well you can detect when something isn’t quite right (whereas the doctor only visits with her on occasion). On the other hand, well visits can give you a unique opportunity to develop a dialogue with your child’s doctor, and can come in really handy if something has been bothering you, but you weren’t sure if you needed to take your child in or not. This is a benefit that Amy, mom of three, points out. “We were able to address speech issues my son was having and also eye issues my daughter was having,” she explains. “The doctors were able to send referrals and point us in the right direction to get help.”

And sometimes, an exam will reveal an issue that you weren’t aware of, such as a friend of mine whose doctors discovered he had a hernia that she didn’t know was there.

“Checkups are the foundation of a child’s health,” says Ashanti W. Woods, M.D., attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “It is doing these visits that a parent gets the opportunity to voice concerns regarding their child’s health, and the health care provider gets a chance to give anticipatory guidance and vaccines to make sure that the child is as healthy as possible.”

Well child visits have changed over the years (I remember when my boys were young, I was quizzed about where my syrup of ipecac was, which docs don’t even want you to keep on hand any more), but the foundation stays the same — your child’s growth is plotted, your concerns are listened to and your physician lets you know what you can expect from your child development-wise until your next visit.

There are pros and cons to regular visits, and some parents choose to compromise — going to well visits, but only outside of the hardcore cold and flu season, which is the route we take. You aren’t required to participate in well child care of course, but it can help your peace of mind if you do.

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