Babies need a lot of doctor visits. Seven of them, to be exact, all within the first year of life. As long as they’re healthy, they’ll see more of their doctor that first year than they will at any other point during their childhood.
“So many things happen in that first year,” says Dan Nicklas, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Colorado’s primary care-focused Child Health Clinic. “Their needs change a lot, and we want to be able to monitor that closely, so we can help get them set up for a healthy childhood.”
Here, Dr. Nicklas breaks down your baby’s first year, visit by visit.
First-year doctor visit 1: 2 days old
What your baby is up to: Already, babies can look up at faces and turn their heads in the direction of noise, especially a parent’s voice. The rest is reflex: sucking, gripping, and lots of sleeping — about 18 or 20 hours a day.
What your pediatrician is looking for: “We’re looking first and foremost at how the baby’s feeding, peeing and pooping,” says Dr. Nicklas. “We expect some weight loss, but hopefully not too much.” He’ll also check for heart murmurs and jaundice, which is relatively harmless and normal in small amounts, but can sometimes be a sign of other problems.
A word to the wise: “The biggest thing is establishing feeding in such a way that the parents can maintain their sanity,” says Dr. Nicklas. “Maybe mom gets a breast pump so dad can feed in the middle of the night. Or maybe there are some close-by relatives or friends that can give mom or dad a break so they can take a shower or go for a walk.”
First-year doctor visit 2: 2 weeks old
What your baby is up to: Not much has changed, but at 2 weeks, babies should be a little more alert and stay awake for a bit longer.
What your pediatrician is looking for: All newborns get a bunch of tests on the day they’re born. They also are still circulating mom’s hormones for about their first week, so pediatricians repeat some screeners at two weeks just to make sure they’re accurate.
A word to the wise: Babies will spend more time asleep than awake for pretty much their whole first year, so safe sleep is crucial. A bassinet is great next to the parents’ bed, but more important is what’s in it (or rather, what’s not): no pillows, no blankets, no stuffed animals — nothing but a tight-fitting sheet. Worried about baby being cold? Try a sleep sack, which covers their body like a blanket, but won’t accidentally get bunched around their head.
First-year doctor visit 3: 2 months old
What your baby is up to: Social smiles! “I recognize you, mom or dad,” says Dr. Nicklas, “and I’m pleased to see you.” They’re also moving their arms and legs a lot, which helps the brain activate pathways of muscle control.
What your pediatrician is looking for: The safest way for babies to sleep is on their back, which can sometimes lead to a little head-flattening. “It helps to do supervised tummy time,” says Dr. Nicklas. “That strengthens their neck and upper back muscles, and when their neck muscles are strong, they tend to move their head around more, which takes away some of the pressure.”
Word to the wise: The 2-month visit marks the start of vaccines, all of which they’ll get again at the 4- and 6-month visits. “One shot gives you some immunity,” Dr. Nicklas explains. “Two gives you more, and three gets you where you need to be.”
First-year doctor visit 4: 4 months old
What your baby is up to: “Here’s where it really starts getting fun,” says Dr. Nicklas. Babies start laughing, and they can hold objects and shake them. They might be sitting up with some help, and even rolling over (so watch them on the changing table).
What your pediatrician is looking for: Solid foods start soon. How to tell they’re ready? The best signal is one parents can watch for at home: their level of interest. If they’re watching parents eat or grabbing for their food, they might be just about ready.
Word to the wise: Babies around this age like to coo — which is adorable, but it’s also important. “They’re forming speech pathways,” says Dr. Nicklas. “Talk to them and make those noises right back. That tells them, you heard me, and I can hear you.”
First-year doctor visit 5: 6 months old
What your baby is up to: Babies start grabbing things and putting them in their mouth, a stage that’ll last about a year — so pay close attention to choking hazards. And they’re getting mobile. “Some kids crawl,” says Dr. Nicklas. “Some scoot along on their butt. Some roll around. As long as they’re moving, we don’t worry about their gross motor development.”
What your pediatrician is looking for: If you haven’t introduced solid foods already, it’s time. Dr. Nicklas recommends once or twice a day in the first couple of months, introducing a new food maybe every couple of days. “Most of it will end up on their face and hands,” jokes Dr. Nicklas. “That’s how they learn.”
Word to the wise: If babies aren’t sleeping through the night by 6 months, Dr. Nicklas recommends starting sleep training. By 9 months, it’ll be much harder. The first step: stop feeding in the middle of the night. If that doesn’t work, hold off from picking them up. Take a moment to rub their back, leave the room, and come back in five minutes. Then 10, then 15, and so on. The longer intervals will (hopefully) tucker them out.
First-year doctor visit 6: 9 months old
What your baby is up to: By this age, babies are probably saying “dada” and “mama,” but it’s not really parent-specific. They’re also probably starting to “cruise” — holding themselves up on a couch or table and walking along it.
What your pediatrician is looking for: It really depends on the baby. Questions about sleep and feeding often come up, but mostly this visit lets Dr. Nicklas check in with parents and make sure growth and development is on track.
Word to the wise: With the baby getting more mobile, safety is paramount. Watch them around staircases and corners of furniture, especially, and make sure to secure top-heavy furniture like bookcases and dressers to the wall.
Visit 7: 12 months old
What your baby is up to: Walking! Or if not yet, then soon. They’re probably assigning “dada” and “mama” to the right parent, and they likely have at least one more word. More will be coming soon.
What your pediatrician is looking for: “Happy birthday! Here are a lot of shots,” Dr. Nicklas jokes. At the 12-month visit, baby gets a new round of vaccinations, which a pediatrician may give all at once or divide up into one round at 12 months and another at 15 (Dr. Nicklas does them all at once). And with that new set of chompers, it’s time to think about dental hygiene — brushing nightly and switching from a bottle to a cup.
Word to the wise: Tantrums begin. At this stage, says Dr. Nicklas, it’s much easier to use distraction than discipline. “The baby attention span is about half a second,” he says. “So if you give them something else to do, they will forget.” Enjoy it while it lasts!