Baby’s first three doctor’s appointments: why they matter

Photo of a physician examining a newborn

Becoming a new parent is a life-changing experience. While it is often exciting and joyful, the initial months of a child's life can also be overwhelming for parents, filled with uncertainties and adjustments. Families should know their infant’s pediatrician is there as a resource not just for the baby—although that comes first and foremost—but also for parents and even older siblings.

Establishing a healthcare relationship with a pediatrician starts almost as soon as the child is born, with three important visits scheduled within the first month. While it may seem like a lot, each visit helps doctors track key developmental milestones and gives parents opportunities to get important answers and resources.

We spoke with Joy Elion, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago Medicine, who shared insights from years of experience caring for infants and supporting new parents as a regular part of her clinical practice—and from being a parent herself.

First visit: within a few days of birth

The first visit to the pediatrician, ideally between three and five days after birth, sets the foundation for the baby's care.

“Our goal is to connect babies with their primary care physician from the start and then follow up with that same physician for all subsequent appointments,” Elion said.

In this initial appointment, the pediatrician gathers information about the baby's and parents' history. They collect details such as weight loss, chestfeeding challenges and signs of jaundice—a condition in which a baby’s eyes and skin look yellow because of a buildup of a substance called bilirubin in their blood that their liver would normally clean out.

"The big things we're looking for in that very first visit are the basics: ensuring the baby is eating, peeing and pooping, and making sure we’re aware of any immediate issues or things that might affect their health going forward," Elion said. For example, jaundice is very treatable, but it can cause long-term complications like seizures if it’s not caught early.

Elion also stressed the importance of a support person accompanying the birthing parent and baby to appointments if at all possible.

“Having a baby isn’t an easy task. It’s important to have some extra help, even just with things like moving around and carrying the baby,” she said.

Second visit: one to two weeks after birth

If there are no pressing issues such as jaundice or trouble chestfeeding that come up in the first appointment, the recommendation is to return about a week later for a two-week checkup focused on the baby’s progress.

At this visit, the pediatrician makes sure the baby has gained back their birth weight and that the umbilical cord has fallen off. According to Elion, the second visit is often an especially important time for parents to ask questions and receive encouragement about their child’s development.

“We make sure to support families through that major transition, letting them know that it's normal to be totally sleep deprived; it's normal for the baby to be waking up crying every two hours,” she said. “People usually have lots of questions: Why is my baby’s skin peeling? What can I put on it? Why are they sneezing? Why do they have hiccups after they eat? We just provide a lot of reassurance, telling them what’s normal and that they’re doing well.”

Third visit: one month after birth

Typically scheduled at around a month of age, the third visit marks a new stage in the baby's life.

“A month seems short to most of us, but for a baby it’s a very long time,” Elion said.

At this point, many babies start exhibiting developmental milestones such as lifting their heads and making more discernible facial expressions like smiling. Pediatricians track those milestones and also refer back to initial screening tests done during the newborn period to make sure results have come back and there are no new or recurring issues.

Elion said she and her colleagues also take the opportunity to check on the entire family's adjustment, including screening for postpartum depression.

“Birthing parents often don’t return to see their own doctor until around six weeks after the baby is born, but they’re going through a lot of adjustments so we want to make sure they know someone cares how they’re feeling,” she said.

Comprehensive support options

Elion pointed out that families should feel empowered to speak up if they don’t feel like the first pediatrician they see is a good fit.

“We like to see people from the very beginning of their care journey when we can, but we understand that sometimes you don’t necessarily mesh well with a pediatrician at the first visit. If that happens, it’s definitely OK to see another provider in the practice,” she said.

Families should also know that clinical doctor’s appointments aren’t the only ways to access postnatal health resources. The UChicago Medicine Family Connects Program allows families to receive home visits from registered nurses a few weeks after a child’s birth. Family Connects nurses can provide education and support for newborn care, schedule follow-up medical care and connect the family with even more resources.

“Home visits are great,” said Elion. “We address as many questions and concerns as possible during clinical appointments, but patients can’t always remember all their questions in the moment, and we can’t do something like point out specific objects or situations in the home that could be hazardous to babies.”

The Family Connects program is free and available to anyone who lives in a Chicago 606 ZIP code and delivers their child at UChicago Medicine or a participating birthing center.

Joy Elion, MD

Joy Elion, MD

Joy Elion, MD, provides a full spectrum of primary care services to infants, children and adolescents at Comer Children's outpatient clinic in Hyde Park.

Learn more about Dr. Elion