What is a routine health check?
Routine health checks are when you take your baby or child to see your doctor or child health nurse at regular times so they can check your child’s health, growth and development.
Your chosen healthcare professional will let you know if your child is following a typical pattern. They will also let you know how you can support your child at each age and stage.
Regular health checks are also an opportunity for your baby or child to receive their routine vaccinations.
It is recommended that children attend scheduled health checks until they turn 5. Regularly taking your child to health checks can help you better understand your child’s growth and development and can detect possible problems early to allow early interventions.
How often should my baby or child have a health check?
There are general age-related recommendations for when a doctor or child health nurse (CHN) should see your child. Although children between birth and 5 years can be seen at any time if you have concerns or questions.
Babies (up to 12 months)
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.
Health checks typically occur around these times:
- at birth
- 1 to 4 weeks
- 6 to 8 weeks
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 12 months
Some babies may need more frequent checks if they have health problems or illnesses that need monitoring, 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 you and your baby.
Children (1 to 5 years)
As a general guide, your child should have a health check at age 1, 18 months, 2, 3, and at 4 or before they start school. A health professional will record your child’s height and weight measurements at each age and make sure your child is reaching their development milestones and getting their immunisations at the right time.
Each Australian state and territory has its own guidelines for how frequently babies and young children should have a health check. These are noted in your child's Infant Health Record, sometimes called the Child Health Record book, that every parent receives when their baby is born.
Why are these ages recommended for health checks?
The first 5 years are very important for lifetime development since this is when the brain and body grow rapidly. This is why regular health and development checks are recommended for all babies and young children.
It’s important to monitor their weight gain, growth and development to check they are within the normal range for their age and sex. A baby’s general health and immunity can be affected if they are not growing as they need to.
Although all children have their own unique pattern of growth and development, there are certain markers that health professionals use to gauge their 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 child’s feeding and nutrition, gender, environment and unique genetics all influence how they grow.
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 your child’s health outcomes in the long term.
What happens during a regular health check?
Babies (up to 12 months)
Your doctor or child health nurse 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 your observations of their development. Your health professional will also observe your baby and do some activities to gauge their development.
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 sex. What’s important is the pattern of growth over time and how the baby is ‘tracking’ along the same or a different curve.
They can also receive their vaccinations, if they are due.
Children (1 to 5 years)
Your doctor or child health nurse will check your child’s hearing, vision, growth and development. Health professionals have access to accurate scales and measuring devices designed for young children. They will use them to weigh your child and measure their height and head circumference.
The health professional may ask your child to do some activities or observe them while they are interacting with you or toys. They will plot their measurements on percentile (growth) charts and compare them against other children of the same age and sex.
They will ask you questions about your child’s eating, sleeping habits and general behaviour. They may ask you other questions to help pick up developmental delays or to identify potential developmental concerns.
You can also offer the health professional information about your child’s health and how they are growing. Use your infant health record book to make notes about your child’s growth and development and write down any questions or concerns you may have about your child and discuss them at the appointment.
The child health nurse 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.
Vaccinations available under the National Immunisation Program.
Should I take my child 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.
It is important that you take your child to the doctor if they are sick, have a rash or temperature, or if you have other concerns about their health. Many community-based child-health centres offer childhood vaccination — doctors vaccinate too.
If the CHN has concerns about your child’s health or development, they may recommend more frequent health checks, including visits to a paediatrician or other specialist services. The child health nurse and doctor should work together with you to provide the support your child needs.
Resources and support
Speak to your child health nurse or doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your baby or child.
You can also refer to your infant health record for guidance on what to expect from routine health checks.
States and territories in Australia have their own services for parents and babies:
- ACT — Maternal, Child and Family Health (MACH)
- NSW Government — Child and family health services
- Northern Territory — Baby and child screening and assessment clinics
- Queensland — Child Health Service
- South Australia — Child and Family Health Service
- Tasmania — Child Health and Parenting Service (CHaPS)
- Victoria— Maternal and Child Health Services
- Western Australia — Child and Adolescent Health Service
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: September 2023