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HomeHealth A-Z Preventive Health Care - Children
Preventive Health Care
Child in School
Healthy children miss less school days and do better in school than sick children.

Preventive Health Care for Children

What is preventive health care?

Preventive health care is medical attention that focuses on keeping children healthy. It involves monitoring a child’s growth and development on a regular and scheduled basis as well as supplying recommended vaccinations at the appropriate ages. Preventive health care aims to prevent disease from developing or to detect an illness or disease in the earliest stages. If a child is sick or diagnosed with a disease, health care becomes focused on treating the condition and achieving as good as health as possible.

Why is preventive health care important for healthy children?

Preventative health care is one of the most important aspects of keeping healthy children healthy. Children should not only visit a doctor when they are sick, but they should visit a doctor for preventive health care check-ups as well. Studies have shown that children who receive regular preventive health care, including check-ups, immunizations, and dental care, are healthier than children who do not. Even when your child is healthy, it is important to schedule visits to the doctor in order to maintain good health.

Preventive Health Care Visits

Scheduling preventive health care visits for your child allows the doctor to monitor your child’s growth and development, perform a physical examination and check overall health, as well as administer the recommended vaccinations. The doctor may discuss safety issues and provide health counseling. It is also an opportunity for the parents to ask the doctor questions about any concerns they may have regarding their child.

As babies and younger children aren't able to let you know if something is wrong, it is important to take them to the doctor for regular check-ups. As children get older, they can ask the doctor about specific health concerns, get information on changes associated with puberty, or get advice on healthy eating, exercise, feelings of depression, discuss drugs, alcohol, and sexual education.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended the following schedule for preventive childhood health care visits:

  • Infancy: Newborn, 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months
  • Early Childhood: 15 months, 18 months, 24 months, 3 years, 4 years
  • Middle Childhood: 5 years, 6 years, 8 years, 10 years
  • Adolescence: Yearly from age 11 to age 21

During each appointment, you can expect the doctor to perform a variety of measurements and screening procedures. The doctor will be evaluating a child’s physical condition as well as monitoring how a child is progressing developmentally and behaviorally. Tests can vary based on age and health and various other factors.

  • Measurements: As good growth is a general indicator of overall good health, height and weight are checked at each visit throughout childhood, and head circumference is measured until about the age of 18 months. The overall size of the child is not nearly as important as whether the child continues to stay in the same weight and height percentile over time. If a child’s size suddenly jumps or drops in percentile ratings, it may indicate a medical problem. A child’s blood pressure may also be checked starting at age 3.
  • Physical Examination: The doctor will perform a complete head to toe physical examination, including a check of the head, neck, heart, lungs, abdomen, and genitals. To check motor skills, the child may be asked to perform some age-appropriate tasks. To check gross motor skills (such as walking and running), a child may be asked to hop on one foot. To check fine motor skills (small movements with the hands), the child may be asked to draw a picture.
  • Sensory Screening: Vision and hearing should be checked at each visit.
  • General Procedures: Some of the requested testing includes: a urine test, a blood test to check for anemia, lead poisoning, cholesterol levels, STD screening, and a pelvic exam.
  • Developmental and Behavioral Assessment: For younger children, the doctor will ask questions regarding the child's development and behavior, concerning potty training, tantrums, talking, reading, interacting with other children, sleeping thru the night, or wetting the bed at night. For older children, the doctor may ask about school, friends, hobbies, and other activities.

Immunizations for Children

Immunizations (vaccines, shots) help protect your child from very serious diseases. Many of these diseases have been almost non-existent due to widespread immunization, but the risk is still present. It is important that your child gets the recommended shots at the appropriate ages to protect them from these very serious diseases. The recommended vaccinations:

  • Hib: To protect against a bacterial infection. Given in three or four doses (depending on the brand) by the time the child is 12 to 18 months old.
  • DTP: To protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Given at 2, 4, 6, and 15 to 18 months of age, with a booster between 4 and 6 years.
  • Hepatitis B vaccine: To protect against the viral disease hepatitis B. Given in three doses before 15 months of age.
  • Polio vaccine: Given in four doses, using the IPV (inactivated polio vaccine, in which polio virus has been killed), rather than the OPV (oral polio vaccine, made from live but weakened polio viruses). Given at 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and booster at 4 to 6 years.
  • MMR vaccine: To protect against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). Given in two doses, at 12 to 15 months and again between 4 and 6 years or before junior high or middle school.
  • Rotavirus vaccine: To protect against the rotovirus, a common cause of severe diarrhea and dehydration in infants and toddlers. Oral vaccine given at 2, 4, and 6 months. Not recommended for children over 6 months old.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine: To protect against the pneumococcal bacteria, the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Given in four doses at 2, 4, 6, and 12-15 months. May be given to children age 2 to 5 years old if at high risk of infection.
  • Chickenpox vaccine: To protect against the chickenpox virus. Recommended for all children older than 12 months who have not had chickenpox. Given as a single shot for children ages 12 months to 12 years, while two shots four to eight weeks apart are necessary for children 13 and older who have never had chickenpox.
  • Influenza: To protect against the flu. Recommended yearly for healthy children from 6 months to 5 years of age.

Preventive Dental Care

Schedule a dental check-up for your child every six months to help keep teeth and gums healthy. The dentist will clean and examine your child's teeth, fill cavities, and instruct on caring for your child's teeth. Once a child is old enough, the teeth should be brushed at least once a day with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.

External Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics

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