All new babies will be offered their first health check within 72 hours of being born and often before you’ve even been discharged from the hospital so there’s no waiting around for baby’s first official doctor’s appointment!
This particular health check is known as ‘The Newborn and Infant Physical Examination Screening Programme’ (NIPE) and is put in place to give baby a quick once over to ensure everything is as it should be now that they have been welcomed into the world. Which healthcare professional carries out this appointment will depend on whether you are experiencing your first lovely couple of days at home as a new family or whether you are still resting up in hospital, but it will either be your midwife, health visitor or GP.
With this in mind, remember that the healthcare professional who carries out your baby’s medical exam might not be familiar with your pregnancy. So be sure to mention anything that could be relevant and potentially affect your baby such as any problems you might have had during pregnancy or if your baby was breech for example.
Along with an overall physical examination, during your baby’ s first check up, measurements will be taken including your baby’s weight, length and head circumference and once these have been captured the appointment will focus on three key areas (or four if you have a little boy) – the eyes, heart, hips (and testicles).
Your baby’s first medical exam is carried out within 72 hours so that any initial worries or concerns can be addressed and any problems spotted early on. If there is a certain something which comes to light medically that needs a bit of extra attention, then treatment can also then be started as soon as possible.
It is of course completely up to you whether you decide to go ahead with these tests, however most parents are quick to say ‘yes’ as being brand new to parenthood is a nerve-wracking time, particularly if this is your first baby. You will likely want the added reassurance from the professionals that your baby is doing well after the ordeal that is giving birth!
Your baby’s first medical screenings explained
Your GP, midwife, or health visitor will use a special torch to look into your baby’s eyes. Here they will be checking to see if everything looks as it should do in terms of movement and general appearance. The main thing they will be checking for is cataracts which is the development of a cloudy area in the lens of your baby’s eye which can make their sight become hazy and misty and in some severe cases, their vision can become blocked. It can be difficult to spot signs of cataracts at this young age so your baby will also have another check for this when they are roughly 6 – 8 weeks old.
A baby’s heart health is so important so your health professional will have their stethoscope at the ready for this particular test. Your baby’s heart needs to be checked for any signs of a possible heart murmur which is an unusual extra sound that can sometimes be heard alongside your baby’s regular heartbeat. Your baby’s pulse will be checked, and their heart listened to using a stethoscope. Don’t worry, heart murmurs are actually very common in babies, particularly in their first few days.
Although heart murmurs are to be expected, this screening is to rule out any other possible heart problems and start treatment for this if needed.
Some babies can be born with certain joint issues where they don’t form properly. Hip problems are known as developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) and is when the ball of the hip joint doesn’t fit in the socket as it should. This means that the hip joint can be loose and prone to injury and if left untreated can develop into a limp or other joint problems later in life.
Usually your doctor will be able to feel straightaway if something is wrong with your baby’s joints and will do some simple tests to see if the hip seems loose in the socket.
The exact cause of developmental dysplasia of the hip is unknown but is more common in babies who are:
- Are firstborn
- A twin or multiple
- Large in size
- A girl (their ligaments tend to be more flexible)
- From a family who have a history of hip problems
Baby boys will need to have their testicles examined to check that both testes are positioned in the right place in the scrotum. During pregnancy, a boy’s testicles form inside their body but they may not drop down into the scrotum until a few months after birth.
The reason for checking the testicles is that it is fairly common that the testicles only partially descend or might not even descend at all. If this is the case then your baby will need treatment as otherwise it could form into potential problems later on in life such a reduced fertility.
You won’t have to wait long for the results of these screenings as you’ll be given these there and then in your appointment and if your baby for whatever reason needs any additional tests or treatment you can get booked in and chat through further with your healthcare professional.
These test results will be logged in your baby’s personal child health record. This usually has a red cover so you will have probably heard it being referred to as the ‘Red Book’. You will need to keep this to hand for whenever your baby sees the midwife or GP in the future so that future measurements can be compared and plotted along the growth chart lines.