A pediatrician shares the importance of immunizations and wellness visits for new babies

Dr. Arethusa Kirk has been a pediatrician for many years – fueled by a passion to help children live healthier lives and grow to their fullest potential. As the National Senior Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare Community & State, she makes it her mission to stress the importance of regular well-child screenings, as a vehicle to help children — especially newborns — begin a path to lifelong health and wellness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends before a child is 15 months old, they should go to at least eight well-child visits.

“As a primary care pediatrician, I have seen how well-child screenings can have a direct, positive influence on a child’s lifelong health,” Dr. Kirk said. “And I have also seen how missing these appointments can have long-term, consequences due to delays in early detection and intervention.”

Connecting back with the medical home

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a steep drop in childhood vaccinations reported while stay-at-home orders kept some from continuing regular in-person preventive care. With added safety measures in place to help protect patients at the doctor’s office, it’s a good time to revisit your family’s pediatrician, especially for newborns and infants. If you have concerns about any health or safety protocols, be sure to connect with your pediatrician’s office. They will be able to tell you all the safety measures they have in place, as well as what you can do to keep yourself safe, such as masking, social distancing and frequently your washing hands.  

What to expect at your child’s physical?

At your well-child visit, the pediatrician will give your little one a physical check-up, screen them for things like hearing and vision, achievement of developmental milestones, and administer immunizations, if needed. Each visit may change slightly, depending on the age of the child.

Consistency to keep on schedule is important with well child visits. The more “snapshots” of your child’s health your pediatrician can partner with you to create, the better to help support the short and long-term health needs of your child.

“Keeping to a screening and immunization schedule has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and emergency department visits later throughout childhood,” Dr. Kirk said.

The well child physical visit is also a great opportunity to ask your pediatrician questions. Some of these questions might include:

  • How can I keep my baby comfortable and safe if it’s cold (or hot) outside?
  • What can I do to make breastfeeding more comfortable for me and my baby?
  • When will my baby gain more weight?
  • Should I always put my baby to sleep on their back?
  • How do I calm and soothe my baby?

“During well-child visits, care providers can also help identify and connect children and parents to resources and programs that can ultimately help improve health outcomes over the duration of a child’s life,” Dr. Kirk said.

This might include things such as resources for help with food, transportation or other social determinants of health.

To find out more about child wellness visits, and to download a checklist with more questions to ask your doctor, visit uhc.com/childrenswellness.