While most parents have a general idea about how their baby is growing, it’s still important for a baby to have regular health checks, done by a health professional, during their first year of life. You’ll not only be reassured about your baby’s growth and development, but sometimes a health issue may be detected that may otherwise have been missed.
How often should my baby have a health check?
There are general age-related recommendations for when a doctor or child health nurse (CHN) should see a baby. Some parents choose not to have their baby seen as regularly as others, especially if they feel confident they’re growing as they need to. First-time parents often find more regular health checks are a good way to gain reassurance about how their baby is doing.
Some babies may need more frequent checks if they have health problems or illnesses that need monitoring, if they were born prematurely or their growth is slow. More regular health checks can help show whether a particular treatment or intervention is working. Your baby’s doctor or health professional can advise what’s right for your baby.
What does my State or Territory recommend?
Each Australian State and Territory has its own guidelines for how frequently babies should have a health check. These are noted in the Infant Health Record, sometimes called the Child Health Record book, that every parent receives when their baby is born. Health checks typically occur around these times:
- At birth
- 1 to 4 weeks
- 6 to 8 weeks
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 12 months
Why are these ages recommended for health checks?
Babies grow rapidly in their first year of life. It’s important to monitor their weight gain, growth and development to check they are within the normal range for their age and gender. A baby’s general health and immunity can be affected if they are not growing as they need to.
Regular health checks help to identify when a baby’s growth is slow or excessive. Although all babies have their own unique pattern of growth and development, there are certain markers that health professionals use to gauge a baby’s overall progress. For example, most babies regain their birth weight between 10 and 14 days after birth and double their birth weight — or gain more — in their first year of life. A baby’s feeding, gender, environment and unique genetics all influence how a baby grows.
If a regular health check reveals a delay in growth or development, this will allow for early intervention, which can make a big difference to the outcome.
What are the most important measurements of growth?
One important way to measure a baby’s growth is to note how much weight they gain (or lose) — but weight isn’t the only factor. Head circumference, length and overall appearance can be valuable indicators of development and growth.
Percentile or growth charts are used to compare a baby’s growth against others of the same age and gender. What’s important is the pattern of growth over time and how the baby is ‘tracking’ along the same or a different curve.
Should I take my baby to a doctor or a child health nurse?
While you have choices, it’s important that your baby is seen regularly by a health professional who is qualified and whom you feel confident seeing. Many parents take their baby to a child health nurse (CHN) to access a free service. CHNs work at community health centres or clinics, although some families are eligible for home visits from a CHN. General practitioners can also do regular baby checks, although they may not be as familiar with infant growth and development as a CHN.
Take your baby to see a GP in between their regular health checks if they are sick or you are worried about their health. Your GP can also provide vaccinations for your baby when they are due. Some community child health centres also run vaccination clinics.
What happens during a baby’s regular health check?
The health professional will physically examine your baby from head to toe, as well as weigh and measure them. Their head and skin will also be examined, and at certain ages, your baby’s eyes, hip abduction and leg length will be checked. Their vision and hearing will be tested too. In addition, you’ll be asked about your baby’s feeding, sleep, behaviour and development.
The CHN or GP will also ask about you — how you are and if you have any concerns. It’s important you feel comfortable enough to ask any questions you may have. Having your baby checked regularly will also provide you with access to support and guidance.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: April 2022