When to Schedule a Well-Child Exam

While your physician’s office can sometimes feel like a second home as you navigate the cycle of viruses, infections, bumps, and bruises that occur during childhood, a well-child exam is a different kind of appointment. These checkups give your physician time to examine their overall well-being instead of focusing on a specific illness or condition.

The purpose of a well-child exam is different from an office visit in which your child needs a diagnosis or treatment. A well-child exam is intended to promote health, prevent disease, identify and treat conditions at their earliest stages, and guide parents in supporting their child’s emotional and intellectual development.

In this blog, board-certified family medicine physician Karl Trippe, MD, of Waco Primary Care in Waco, Texas, explains when your child should have a well-child exam and what to expect during these appointments.

Recommended timing of well-child exams

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a schedule of well-child exams for individuals from birth to young adulthood. While your physician may advise a slightly different schedule depending on your child’s condition, it’s common for healthy children to have a well-child exam at the following ages:

  • First week (3-5 days)
  • 1 month
  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 9 months
  • 12 months
  • 15 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years (24 months)
  • 2½ years (30 months)
  • Annually from ages 3-21

The higher frequency of well-child exams at the beginning of life coincides with the rapid growth and development that occurs during the first few years of life. Having frequent physical exams during this time can help to identify problems and allow for intervention as soon as possible.

If your child has a chronic medical condition or is at high risk of developing one, they may require more frequent examinations and monitoring.

What to expect during a well-child exam

There are several components to a well-child exam that remain consistent no matter how old your child is at the time of their appointment. Most well-child visits include a thorough physical examination with age-appropriate screenings for common health problems and developmental issues.

For example, your child will undergo an autism screening at their well-child exams at 18 and 24 months, when early signs of autism are often noticeable. A screening will help your physician determine whether your child requires further evaluation for diagnosis and treatment.

Other routine procedures include measuring their weight, height, and body mass index (BMI) to assess their physical development. Your child’s blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates may also be recorded. A stethoscope will be used to listen to your child’s breathing, heartbeat, and bowel sounds. Recommended vaccinations and annual flu shots will also be administered at this time.

You’ll also be able to discuss any concerns you have about your child’s physical, mental, and social growth and development. It will also give your physician time to provide age-appropriate education and referrals regarding your child’s condition.

Why you should schedule a well-child exam

A well-child exam can help save your child’s life in more ways than one. Unintentional injuries rank as the leading cause of death for children in the United States. In addition to promoting disease prevention and early intervention, well-child exams provide a valuable opportunity for physicians to review age-appropriate preventive care, such as using car seats and wearing bicycle helmets.

Attending these exams as recommended will also help establish continuity of care throughout your child’s lifetime. Continuity of care has been associated with improved clinical outcomes and fewer emergency department visits as opposed to fragmented care administered by multiple providers in response to acute conditions.