Key advice on children’s health checks that you may have missed

If you are a parent, you need to know which important health checks your child should have from birth onwards, and which ones you may have missed.

Raising a healthy child takes teamwork between an informed parent and a treating doctor, to give the child access to the right health checks, at the right time.

For many years, the Road to Health Card – and more recently the Road to Health Booklet – have been essential tools that guide parents and caregivers to record the following development goals of each child in the first five years of life:

  • Birth history
  • Growth (height, weight and head circumference)
  • Development
  • Illnesses
  • Vaccination history

Ask your child’s paediatrician to fill in this essential record at every visit, but also use your visits to talk about other important matters, such as:

  • Infant feeding, especially the importance of breastfeeding (if you are able to breastfeed) and weaning to solids
  • Infant sleep position and patterns
  • Car and home safety (as a child becomes more mobile and explorative)
  • Certain all-important child health checks that you may overlook.

What are those health checks?

Has your child’s hearing been checked?

An audiologist should test your child’s hearing shortly after your baby’s birth. The audiologist uses special apparatus to determine whether the baby's inner ear or brain responds to sound. It is a painless test and easy to do while the baby is sleeping.

The general recommendation is that newborns should have hearing assessments before they go home from hospital or between the ages of 3 to 5 days and 1 month old. While most children born in private hospitals undergo such a test, it is not compulsory, and you can take your baby for a hearing test in your own time. Babies born at home, or at birthing centres where midwives deliver them, may not have the screening test at all.

It is key to identify any hearing problems by the time a baby is 3 months old so that early intervention or treatment can be underway by the time the baby is 6 months old.

Hearing loss affects the development of speech, language and social skills. Babies hear sounds before they are born and their hearing system continues to develop after birth. At 3 months, babies smile when addressed, and by 6 months they can babble and imitate sounds. If a baby cannot hear, their auditory and cognitive development will slow. This makes early identification and intervention key.

Have you considered having your child’s vision checked?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a paediatrician check babies’ eyes as newborns (for infections, defects and cataracts) before leaving hospital, and at each subsequent visit, with referral to a paediatric ophthalmologist where necessary.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention that reviews evidence and develops recommendations for clinical practice. The USPSTF recommends formal screening for visual defects for children aged 3 to 5 by their paediatrician or by an optician or ophthalmologist. Also important, is that children with a family history of childhood vision problems are more likely to need intervention.

Oral health matters, right from birth

You should wipe your baby’s gums with a soft cloth in the morning after a first feed and before bed at night to remove bacteria and sugars that cause dental decay. Later, use a soft toothbrush and water on the first teeth. Observe and help older children as they brush (twice a day with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste), to make sure they brush correctly and don’t swallow the toothpaste. Visit a dentist by your child’s first birthday to catch any problems early on and to discuss fluoride varnish and fluoride supplementation.

Children over six months of age should have a flu shot

The South African national expanded programme on immunisation spans from birth to age 12. Parents can have their children vaccinated at state clinics for free or through private healthcare. Note that some vaccinations, such as those against MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and chickenpox, are not available in the public sector.

That aside, parents often overlook the voluntary, annual flu vaccine for children. It is safe to vaccinate children aged 6 months or older. In addition, children under the age of five fall into the ‘high risk’ group for being hospitalised due to severe complications from flu. Chat to your child's healthcare provider to decide what is best.

Check your child’s weight and rate of weight gain. Both matter.

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. It’s good to see a baby put on weight and reach its growth milestones. However, children who weigh more than they should, and who put on weight rapidly from ages 2 to 6, are at greater risk of obesity and chronic disease later in life. Start having your children’s body mass index measured regularly from two years of age. Children who are categorised as overweight at 6 years old should have counselling and enter a weight-control programme to prevent the serious consequences of overweight later in life.

As a SABMAS member, you have access to the Wellness Benefit. This benefit is available to all members and their registered beneficiaries. The Wellness Benefit empowers you with better awareness of your health status through the Early Detection Programmes.

The Early Detection and Immunisation Programmes not only assist to avoid expensive medical costs in the future, but encourages you to keep healthy and improve your quality of life. For your convenience there is no need to register for this benefit; your membership qualifies you automatically.

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