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Healthy Living

A parent's guide to children's preventive health care

Preventive health care for your children starts early -- even before they are born! Review these guidelines for preconception and prenatal care, as well as preventive health care to keep your children healthy.

Preconception: Preparing for Pregnancy
Prenatal care: Getting off to a healthy start
Take care of yourself
Baby steps
Through the teen years
Childhood Immunization Schedule

Preconception: Preparing for Pregnancy

Before you try to conceive, depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend screenings for genetic disorders, tuberculosis, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. If you haven't already been immunized, rubella and hepatitis B vaccinations may be recommended as well.

Before becoming pregnant, you should also:

  • Eat a balanced diet.

  • Take a multivitamin supplement with folic acid (folic acid has been shown to prevent certain birth defects.)

  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, mental retardation, birth defects and health problems during the baby's infancy.

  • Monitor medication use. Check with your physician before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication, because some medicines can also affect your unborn baby. Illegal substances should be avoided at all times, but especially when you are planning to become pregnant.

Prenatal care: Getting off to a healthy start

As soon as you know you are pregnant, make plans to see your physician. Schedule your first visit within the first trimester (three months) of your pregnancy. After your initial doctor's visit, you'll usually see your physician every four weeks, up to week 29 of pregnancy. Generally, the frequency of office visits increases to every two to three weeks from 29 to 36 weeks, then weekly from 36 weeks until delivery.

At each visit, your physician will monitor the progress of your pregnancy and screen for possible complications. For example, your doctor may check for gestational diabetes at 24 to 28 weeks.

While you are pregnant, make sure you:

  • Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.

  • Take a multivitamin with folic acid.

  • Discuss with your physician physical activity during pregnancy and preparing for childbirth, including classes, signs of labor and plans for your delivery.

Take care of yourself

Once your baby has arrived, you may be focused only on your little one's health. Don't neglect your own. Four to six weeks after your baby's birth, see your physician for a physical exam to make sure you're recovering well from the delivery.

At this visit, your physician may review family planning and birth control options. Be sure to have this exam no later than six weeks after delivery.

Baby steps

Your child should visit the doctor regularly for physical examinations. Periodic checkups allow the physician to administer immunizations, monitor your child's growth, check for abnormalities and provide developmental, behavioral and preventive counseling.

Most doctors recommend eight exams during the first year of life (newborn, 2 to 4 days, by 1 month, and at 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months), and three visits during the second year (at 15, 18 and 24 months). Your child's physician will most likely want to schedule a checkup at ages 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8, and then annually from age 10.

Keep in mind these are general guidelines. Your child's doctor will determine the best exam schedule.

During these periodic wellness visits, see that your child receives the immunizations recommended at each age (see Childhood Immunization Schedule). It's important to keep your child's immunizations up to date. Until he or she receives all the required doses, your child does not have adequate immunity and is more susceptible to childhood diseases.

Your child's blood pressure (beginning at age 3), vision and hearing should be checked, and height and weight should be measured on a regular basis. Periodic diagnostic tests, such as urinalysis to check for kidney problems and a blood test to check for anemia, are important to detect problems that may need medical attention. Your child may also tested for blood lead levels and cholesterol, depending on particular risk factors. Tuberculosis testing is recommended for children at high risk. Dental visits should start at 1 to 3 years of age.

Your child's doctor can also provide developmental and behavioral progress reports and give advice on nutrition and injury prevention.

Through the teen years

Your child should visit the doctor each year between the ages of 10 and 17. Physical exams track a child's physical, mental and emotional development. In addition to updating growth records and performing a physical examination, your child's doctor will administer immunizations, perform tests as needed, and check vision and hearing. For example, at ages 11 to 12, your child may need immunizations for hepatitis B and chicken pox (varicella) if the immunizations were not previously given. Chicken pox vaccine is not needed if your child has had chicken pox. Also, between ages 11 and 16, a diphtheria-tetanus booster is needed.

Counseling is an important aspect of adolescent wellness checkups. Your child's doctor may address issues such as smoking, sex and substance abuse. Sexually active adolescents should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases once a year. Sexually active females should have an annual pelvic exam, as well as an annual Pap test until there are three consecutive normal results.

Childhood Immunization Schedule

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