5 Reasons to See a Pediatrician

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After your child is born, one of the first doctors you will see for his or her care is a pediatrician. But knowing when to see your pediatrician, and for how long, can sometimes be confusing for young parents.

Pediatrician vs. Family Practitioner

Unlike a family practitioner who typically treats adults over the age of 18, pediatricians generally focus on the physical, mental and emotional well-being of infants, children, teens and young adults until the age of 18 to 21, depending on the doctor. These pediatric doctors work with you to offer advice, prevent illness, and help you foster a healthy lifestyle for your child. They also treat acute (critical) or chronic (long-term) conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.

If your child shows symptoms of a specific condition, your pediatrician may refer him or her to a pediatric specialist for further evaluation. These doctors have specialized training and unique expertise in their area of practice, such as orthopedics (birth defects, developmental disorders) or cardiology (heart disease).

As your child grows and develops, you will likely visit your pediatrician for a number of reasons. Be sure to provide the doctor as much detailed information as possible about your child and any symptoms you’ve noticed. Take time to ask all of your questions, no matter how trivial they may seem. You may want to bring a friend or family member to help you listen and jot down important information. The more you know (and remember) the better you can care for your child at home.

Vaccines

Vaccines (vaccinations or immunizations) are injections of small amounts of a virus or bacteria that help fend off infection and keep children immune to certain diseases. They are recommended for children at a variety of points as they age from birth to 18 years. Though the recommendations often change as new vaccines are developed, they may include:

Many parents are concerned about the effects and safety of vaccines. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends kids get combination vaccines (rather than single vaccines) whenever possible to help reduce the number of shots a child receives. Some children may have a slight fever or feel soreness at the injection site, but serious reactions or illness are rare.

Development

One reason it’s important to take your child to a pediatrician is to monitor his developmental progress or milestones. At each visit, your child will be weighed and measured to evaluate his growth in weight, height, and body mass index (BMI). The doctor will show you how this compares to other kids of the same age and gender so you can gauge how your child is progressing. The pediatrician will also check for any developmental delays. He or she may ask about your child’s behavior at home and observe things like smiling, rolling over, sitting up, language, walking and how she uses her hands and arms. The doctor will also test your child’s reflexes and muscle tone.

Fever

Almost all children will have a fever at some point, but how do you know when it’s time to have your child checked out? Generally, the younger your child, the sooner you should take him to the doctor. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you contact your pediatrician if your child:

  • is younger than 3 months and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

  • is 3 to 6 months and has a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

  • is any age and repeatedly has a fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit a fever that lasts more than 24 hours

  • is 2 years or older and has a fever for more than 3 days

  • has other symptoms, such as a stiff neck, severe headache, severe sore throat, severe ear pain, an unexplained rash, or repeated vomiting or diarrhea

  • seems to be getting worse with a fever or after having a fever

  • looks very ill, is unusually drowsy, or is very fussy

  • has been in a very hot place, such as an overheated car

  • has signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, sunken soft spot or significantly fewer wet diapers and is not able to take in fluids

  • has immune system problems, such as sickle cell disease or cancer, or is taking steroids

  • has had a seizure

  • still appears sick once the fever is brought down

Ear Infection

Young children have on average 6 to 8 colds a year, and often with them come ear infections. Common signs and symptoms include ear pain, tugging or pulling at the ear, trouble sleeping, crying or acting more irritable than usual, and fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Symptoms generally improve in the first couple of days and often clear up on their own within one to two weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a wait-and-see approach as one option for kids:

  • 6 to 23 months with mild inner ear pain in one ear for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit

  • 24 months and older with mild inner ear pain in one or both ears for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit

If your child is less than 6 months and showing symptoms of an ear infection, contact your doctor right away. Also contact your doctor if your child is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection, or has symptoms that last for more than a day, severe ear pain, or a discharge of fluid, pus or blood. Your doctor may prescribe treatment, such as a warm compress, pain medication or an antibiotic.

Behavior

Most parents run into some type of behavioral problem with their children, whether it be learning difficulties, discipline issues, or bed wetting. Your pediatrician can offer guidance in these areas, as well. But there may be times your doctor will want to refer you to a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. This is someone who has the training and experience to consider the medical and psychosocial aspects of your child’s condition, whether it be a learning difficulty like dyslexia or a regulatory disorder like a sleep or feeding problem. Your developmental-behavioral pediatrician may work with a team, including a psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist or others, to help your child.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  6. What is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician? Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/health-management/pediatric-specialists/Pages/Wh...