The first six months of a baby's life is a time of rapid change for both the baby and its parents. That's why all Australian state and territory health departments recommend regular checks by a health practitioner such as a family doctor or child health nurse. You can find details of child health nurse availability from your local council; however, there are often limited appointments available. For continuity of care and to discuss any more complicated medical issues you can see your family doctor at a local bulk billing medical centre.
Upon discharge from the hospital, you'll likely be told to see your family doctor within one week of the baby's birth. At this appointment, the doctor will review the birth with you to identify any areas of concern with either your health or the baby's health. If you've had any investigations done at the hospital now is a good time to follow up on them.
Your healing from the birth and how you're coping with your new responsibilities will be reviewed, and your baby's weight will be checked. Many babies have lost weight by the time they are discharged so it's a good opportunity to make sure they're putting weight back on. While they'll have been examined by a doctor or midwife before leaving hospital, your family doctor will examine them again to make sure nothing has been missed. And of course, it's the first chance for your family doctor to meet the new member of your family!
Six to eight weeks
Six to eight weeks is another opportunity to check how your little one's weight gain is going. Your family doctor will see how your emotional and physical health is going, including checking how any wounds have healed. It's a good time to discuss contraception if you're not wanting to get pregnant immediately. You'll be asked questions about if the baby is smiling and focusing its eyes on interesting things (such as mum's doting face!).
Your family doctor will do a thorough examination, checking your baby out from head to toe. The most important things they're looking for include that your baby's heart sounds good with no signs of any problems that may not have been picked up at birth, that the baby's hips are fully developed and that your baby's nervous system is working as it should.
At this time vaccinations are also due. These are important to protect your baby from diseases that can be very serious in a baby such as pertussis (also known as whooping cough), rotavirus and Haemophilus influenzae, which can cause meningitis in newborns.
The next series of vaccinations are due now. A bulk billing medical centre can do these at no cost to you, while your family doctor can check how everything is going. They'll ask about any reactions your baby had to the previous series of immunisations, as well as milestone some babies have met by this point such as rolling over. It's a good time to get the latest information about starting solids too, as recommendations have changed recently. Advice from well-meaning family members or friends in this area can often be out of date so it's good to touch base with a professional before you start.
At six months your baby will receive the final boosters for the series of immunisations they started at six to eight weeks. Your family doctor will ask about new milestones they may have reached such as rolling, sitting up and even crawling. They'll examine your baby to see how their heart, lungs and nervous system are developing and discuss what you can expect from the coming months in regards to feeding, sleep and new milestones.
If you have any non-urgent questions about either you or your baby's health it's important to discuss these with your family doctor. If they can't help you then they'll be able to refer you to another doctor or community group. It's a good idea to write down any questions between appointments so that you won't forget on the day.