In the first few years of life, children grow and develop at a rapid pace. During that time, parents and pediatricians work together to ensure that kids are reaching their milestones.
“We have expert knowledge in child health, but the parent is the primary caregiver and is the expert in their child,” says Dr. Brian J. Kennedy, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan. “We sort of serve as a consultant.”
The pediatrician’s office may feel like a second home in those first few years of life, but there’s a reason for that. It’s important for your child to have regular well visits during that time.
“They’re not just going there just to get those vaccines – as important as they are. Really, it’s about looking at the whole person – the physical, emotional, developmental and well being of each individual child,” Dr. Kennedy says.
Before a baby is born, doctor’s appointments ramp up for expectant moms, so the folks at UnitedHealthcare Community Plan work with families to ensure that all of their insurance needs are met for prenatal care and beyond. Stephanie Esters, the clinical quality RN at UnitedHealthcare Community Plan, offers expectant moms information for a healthy pregnancy and insight on helping their baby develop in those first few years of life. Here, Dr. Kennedy and Nurse Esters provide information on prenatal care, office visits post-birth, screenings, vaccinations and more.
Early identification of your pregnancy and getting that care scheduled as soon as possible is extremely important, Dr. Kennedy says. “Education on your pregnancy and your baby’s health is a key component of prenatal care,” Dr. Kennedy says, so be sure to ask questions when you meet with your obstetrician – and be prepared to take a look at your lifestyle and habits.
“It’s a time when a lot of people do consider their health a lot differently and might really be able to make that commitment to quit smoking or to really have a more healthy diet or overall lifestyle,” Dr. Kennedy says.
Dr. Kennedy urges moms to schedule a visit with the obstetrician instead of visiting the emergency room. Your OB is tracking your baby’s growth, knows what medications you can take and preexisting conditions you have – and is trained specifically to deal with pregnant women.
Postnatal care is important, too. Nurse Esters says that moms should visit their obstetrician 21 days after giving birth – no more than 56 days. To ensure proper care, UnitedHealthcare has a Baby Blocks program, Esters adds. “It’s an opportunity for moms to get reminders on the scheduling for prenatal visits once they sign up,” she says. Moms receive incentives – like diaper bags and toys – for tracking the completion of those visits electronically. Check it out at www.uhcbabyblocks.com.
Birth to age 2
You’re going to spend a lot of time in the pediatrician’s office during the first couple years of your child’s life. That’s because doctors have a set schedule for well visits during the time. Infants are seen in the first 5 to 7 days of life and then at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months – then again at 15 months, 18 months and 2 years old. “We really like that 2-year visit to be a little before they turn 2 years old,” Dr. Kennedy says. “If they are behind on any of their shots, it’s really important to get those taken care of before their second birthday.” Your child will receive a number of vaccinations in that first two years of life – something Dr. Kennedy says prompts resistance from parents. “The key is to really understand that those vaccines are about protecting at that time because babies are particularly vulnerable to these illnesses.”
Relative risks from vaccinations are low, he adds.
Aside from shots, well visits give parents the opportunity to voice any of their concerns about their child’s development, ask questions, seek guidance and more. Plus, your child’s doctor is able to screen for any delays.
One of the top concerns during this time period is autism, Dr. Kennedy says. There are no definitive answers as to what causes autism. “What we do know is that if you detect it very early, it makes a huge difference,” Dr. Kennedy says. “And that detection is really about looking for those social cues from your baby, even from the earliest point where they have the ability to give you social cues.”
Are they smiling, imitating you, making facial expressions and wanting to be held? If not, something could be wrong. Early detection is key, he says, so those regular office visits are critical.
Preschool and beyond
Now that your child is a bit older, he or she should visit the pediatrician for an annual exam, in addition to any sick visits.
“In the preschool years, you’re focusing on school readiness and what the parent can do to help them with that,” Dr. Kennedy says.
Doctors will discuss safety concerns, assess development and help parents anticipate issues with the child.
As your child gets older, the visits will shift from pediatrician-parent interaction to pediatrician-child interaction. Why? Dr. Kennedy says that pediatricians want to develop the child’s independence and responsibility for their health. Through developing a relationship with their pediatrician, kids will understand the value of seeing their doctor and living a healthy life as they get older.