You and your child's doctor
When your baby is born, you will start taking him to see a primary care provider (a health professional who provides day-to-day health care and advice) for his health care. Your primary care provider can be a paediatrician, family doctor, nurse or midwife. As your child grows and develops, you'll likely turn to your child's primary care provider – with questions or concerns.
Should my child see a paediatrician or a family doctor?
Both paediatricians and family doctors provide care for babies, children and teens. They do routine care (check-ups, immunizations, and so on) and see children when they are sick.
In some cities and towns, all routine care is provided by a family doctor or a nurse practitioner, while in other places, children see a paediatrician for their regular care. Your family doctor might refer your child to a paediatrician for a specific health issue, but she will continue to be involved in care.
How do I find a doctor?
Word of mouth: Ask friends and family members with children about their doctor.
Provincial colleges and territorial ministries: Each province has a college of physicians and surgeons, which grants licenses to doctors to practice. Many colleges have referral services to help people find doctors accepting new patients. In the territories, this service is usually provided by the Ministry of Health.
What will my child's doctor do?
- Keep track of your child's health, growth and development.
- Diagnose, explain and treat minor to more serious illnesses.
- Provide information and answer questions.
- Send you to other health professionals when an illness or condition may need specialized expertise or services.
When should I take my child for a first doctor's visit?
Babies are usually checked by a health care provider within the first week of going home from the hospital. At this first visit your health care provider will:
- Weigh your baby and measure his length and head circumference.
- Check for signs of jaundice.
- Check on how feeding is going for you and your baby.
- Do a general physical exam.
- Ask how the family is adjusting.
- Complete any screening tests that were not done at the hospital.
This first visit doesn't have to be with your regular paediatrician or family doctor. Sometimes it is done by a doctor at the hospital where you gave birth, your midwife or a public health nurse. It can be done at home, in the office or in a hospital clinic. If your baby doesn't see her regular doctor at this visit, it will happen soon after.
What can I expect from a visit to my child's doctor?
“Well-baby” or “well-child” visits are a lot like an adult’s annual check-ups, but focus on your child's age and stage of development.
Your baby should have regular visits to the doctor at 2,4, 6, 9, 12 and 18 months, 2 years, and then once every year until 5 years of age. When your child is 5 years old, she should see her doctor every 1 or 2 years until she is 18 years old.
A well-baby/child visit usually lasts 10 to 20 minutes. Your doctor and her staff will:
- Check your child's weight, height and head circumference.
- Discuss your child's eating habits and answer any questions about nutrition and physical activity.
- Provide advice about safety and other issues related to your child's age and abilities such as when to switch to a forward-facing car seat.
- Ask about milestones, such as self-feeding or toilet learning.
- Ask about your child's social and emotional development, such as learning words. When your child gets older, this is a good time to discuss any learning problems in school and any social or emotional issues. You might also want to discuss any problems that are happening at home.
- Do a physical exam, such as looking at eyes and ears and listening to your child’s heart.
- Give your child any recommended vaccines.
- See an older child and adolescents without a parent or guardian in the room for part of the visit.
If you have questions or concerns that could take longer than the regular 15-minute visit, let your doctor’s staff know when you schedule the appointment. That way, enough time can be scheduled to answer your concerns.
How can I make the most of our visit to the doctor?
- Keep a list of any concerns you have. Bring it with you so you remember to discuss them at your visit.
- Record any symptoms your child may be having. All symptoms are important when talking about health issues.
- Bring a list of your child’s medications.
- Bring your child’s immunization record.
- Involve your child in the visit, both before and during. Talk to him about it before you go, so he knows what to expect. If he is old enough, ask him to tell you and the doctor how he is feeling.
How can I make the visit easier for my child?
- Schedule visits at a time when your child isn't usually napping.
- Use a toy doctor's kit to teach your young child about all the things the doctor will do when you visit. Or bring along a favourite “buddy,” a stuffed animal or doll, who gets an exam along with your child. This might help her feel more comfortable when it comes time for the real thing.
- Young children may find it difficult to sit still in a doctor's waiting room. Bring a couple of books, a favourite toy and a snack to help keep your child busy and happy during the wait.
- If your child is older, explain why she is visiting the doctor. Use simple, easy-to-understand language. If it is for a regular check-up, explain that all children see a doctor, and that the doctor checks how she is growing and developing. Be honest about what your child can expect from the exam.
- Tell your older child or adolescent that he can see the doctor without you in the room. This might help him feel more comfortable talking with the doctor.
What do I do between visits?
If you have any questions about your child's health between regular office visits, call your doctor's office. Your doctor's receptionist or nurse will be able to help you with minor problems and decide if you need to see the doctor.
Most provinces and territories have toll-free health lines where you can speak to a registered nurse about general health information. Nurses can help you assess your child's symptoms and decide your best first step.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Community Paediatrics Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last Updated: August 2013