Are well-child visits worth it? Should you do them, or just some of them? And if so, how do you find a good doctor who can meet your needs?
I’m not going to give you a straight answer to it, though. There are a lot of things to take into consideration before saying “yes” or “no,” and the answer will be different for different families. What I’m going to do is explore some questions that you need to ask before deciding whether or not it’s worth it to you.
What are Well-Child Visits For?
First, we need to understand why well-child visits exist. There are a few main purposes:
- Weight/length/head circumference check
- Developmental milestones
- Health history/relationship
Those are the main reasons why doctors have well-child visits. Of course, through these visits, doctors also get to know the patients a little bit and get a health history on them. This is probably of limited value since visits are typically only 10 minutes long, but the doctor will at least know what the child is eating, if there are any developmental concerns, if there are allergies, etc. Many parents feel better knowing that they have a doctor who has met and seen their child several times and has some type of basis for making health decisions in case of emergency.
Doctors also like to check in on patients just to make sure everything is “okay.” This means, in rare cases, that there is no abuse or other weird stuff. In most cases, it means that children are meeting their milestones appropriately. They also dole out (sometimes outdated) advice on feeding, sleeping, and other parenting practices. This can be very helpful for some, and not as much for others.
Should You Do Well-Child Visits?
Some parents feel that they are capable of weighing and measuring their babies at home, as well as noting developmental milestones, and if they choose not to vaccinate, do not feel the need to go to regular well-child visits. These parents may also be afraid that the doctors will not support, or even ridicule their parenting choices, and they’d prefer to skip such meetings.
However, if you do choose to vaccinate, you will need to go to some or all the visits (depending on if you’ve chosen a delayed/modified schedule or not). That is something you would need to discuss as a family, as well as with your chosen pediatrician.
Some parents, especially those who are not vaccinating or have chosen a delayed/selective schedule prefer not to bring young babies to the doctor. There is always the (valid!) concern that there will be sick children in the office, and that these children could pose a risk to a young baby. Some doctors have separate waiting areas for sick and well patients to help combat this, and even separate examining rooms.
But, there is still the chance that the doctor could visit a sick patient who coughs on his coat, and then comes into your room to check your new baby. Many parents find this situation unnerving and prefer to skip at least the early well visits. Doctors don’t like this because they usually feel that young babies need the most care.
(I know when I called the pediatrician when Daniel was 4 days old — remember he was born at home, so no one notified him that the baby had arrived — they were quite upset at having only just found out, and insisted I bring him in immediately. Like two hours later. I’m not sure I’ll even call next time so soon. Although I have been told that the new pediatrician we found does house calls, so we’ll see.)
As far as developing a relationship with a pediatrician, I have a number of thoughts on that matter.
Is it nice to have a doctor who knows your child, has his health history handy, and whose advice you can trust in case an emergency were ever to arise? Yes. And if you can find a doctor who fits these criteria, then you may be best doing the well-child visits. Hopefully, you will never need a doctor in this capacity, but it would be good to have the relationship if you ever did.
On the other hand, if you cannot find a doctor who meets these criteria (I’ll list them more clearly below), I don’t think it’s worth it. If you don’t trust your doctor or his/her advice, no matter if s/he is willing to “accept” your parenting choices or not, it’s not worth it. It’s not a true relationship and s/he will be little help in an emergency.
How Do I Know I Have a Good Doctor?
There are several things you want to look for when searching for a doctor. And if you don’t find it with the first person (or third, or seventh), don’t hesitate to keep looking. Remember, a doctor you can’t trust is no better than no doctor at all!
#1: You have similar philosophies on health
You don’t have to agree on everything, but you should generally agree on things. For example, if you’re inclined to “wait and see” and look for natural alternatives first, but the doctor is a “nip it in the bud with some antibiotics” type, you won’t work well together.
#2: You can truly be honest with the doctor
Even in the areas when you don’t agree, you should feel that you can tell the doctor what you’ve chosen, and feel that he’s not going to disrespect you.
#3: The doctor respects your role as a parent and treats you well
The doctor should understand that as a parent, you have the final say, but hope that you trust his judgment. And if he treats you with respect, you probably will!
#4: The doctor makes his policies clear to you upfront
This includes basic office policies (like billing, appointment scheduling, etc.) and any medical preferences (such as you “must” get certain vaccines, or whatever). This way if you think you might clash you can find someone else.
#5: The doctor is open to questions and concerns (at all hours!)
You should feel open to ask your doctor any question that you need to about your child’s health, especially during office visits. But many parents also need to know they can reach someone outside of office hours in case of emergency. The doctor should have a policy for handling questions that arise outside of appointments, emergency or no. (I once called my daughter’s doctor because she was 4 days old, crying non-stop, and had been refusing to eat all day. Turned out she wasn’t latching well and was starving and frustrated! Smart, right? But that sort of thing comes up a lot with your first baby.)
Some parents would include “takes our insurance” on this list, and my husband would tend to agree with them. But I don’t. I haven’t found a doctor who does take our insurance with whom I mesh well, and I’m not going to take my children to a doctor just to say I did because “it’s free.” I’d rather pay and see a doctor I can really trust and respect. If those visits do end up partially covered, that’s just a bonus (the current word is yes, we will get reimbursed at the out-of-network rate, if you’re curious)!
To find a doctor you like, start asking other parents in your area, especially ones who are like-minded. You’ll probably find that the same 3 or 4 names come up repeatedly. These would be the top doctors to check out! Of course, you can also check with your insurance company, the person who delivered (or will deliver) your baby, local parenting guides, etc.
What If There’s No Good Doctor?
It may happen, especially in smaller areas, that you just can’t find a doctor you mesh well with. What do you do then?
Some parents may need to have a doctor, either because they are vaccinating, or because their baby has a health issue, or because they just feel uncomfortable without one. In this case, I’d encourage you to go with someone who at least respects your opinions and treats you nicely, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye and well as you’d like. Perhaps this relationship will not be as helpful as would be ideal, but at least there is someone there.
If you can’t even find a doctor you can stand, try looking a bit of a distance away from you or start checking out some alternatives. Maybe, depending on your needs, a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor would be a better fit. Many parents use chiropractors as their “primary” doctors (although we technically don’t, our kids do see our chiropractor far more often than any other doctor! Daniel is convinced every doctor he sees must be a chiropractor and he climbs on the table and lies face down, waiting for his adjustment).
If you aren’t incredibly attached to the idea of well-child visits (remember: if you are not vaccinating and your child has no health problems, there is no reason why you have to do them. If you can weigh and measure your child at home and check the milestone charts, you are doing the majority of it. I truly believe your instincts would tell you when something was wrong and then, you could choose to seek medical care), skip them.
So, the ultimate answer — Should you do well child visits? Entirely depends on you. Do you have a doctor you trust? Do you want to do them? Do you, for any reason, need to do them? It’s up to you. But hopefully this post has shed some light on questions you might ask before making that decision.
Do you do well-child visits? Why or why not?