Preventive care is very important for children. During the first few years especially, there are many preventive care steps parents should take for their child. The first couple of years are very involved in terms of tests and screenings because these are important developmental years.
Compared to adults, children undergo many more vaccinations as part of their preventive care, with the majority of vaccinations taking place within the first few months of the child being born.
The number of appointments a child needs for preventive care is also very different compared to an adult. Most adults only have to worry about scheduling an annual checkup. While there is preventive care for adult men and women, they are typically done every few years. In comparison, young children visit the doctor every few months. As they get older, the screenings and tests become less frequent and start to resemble the same schedule adults have for their preventive care.
Preventive care for children is also referred to as well-child visits. The exact plan you use for your child may vary slightly based on what your doctor recommends. More information regarding preventive care for children is covered below.
Vaccinations for Children
During the first few months of preventive care for children, most of the focus will be administering vaccinations. Not only do children receive vaccinations more frequently than adults, but they receive multiple vaccinations at a time. Many of these vaccinations only need to be administered a few times during the developmental years, which is part of the reason why adults do not need as many vaccinations later in their lives. Children receive the following vaccinations within their first two years:
- DTaP, which is for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis
- Hepatitis B vaccination
- Hib, which is for Haemophilus influenzae type B
- PCV, for pneumococcal disease
- Rotavirus vaccination
- IPV, which is immunization for polio
The above-mentioned vaccinations should be administered specifically within the first six months. The exact schedule recommended by your physician may change slightly, but typically, physicians try to schedule the first round of vaccinations on the second month and the following treatments every two months. If your child has a difficult time with vaccinations, then your physician may choose to spread the vaccinations out.
Your child will not need vaccinations for another six months. Shortly after their first birthday, children should receive their next Hib and PCV vaccination, along with the following new vaccinations:
- MMR, which is immunization against measles, mumps and rubella
- Hepatitis A vaccination
- Varicella, which is a vaccination for chickenpox
Note: Many physicians recommend the varicella vaccination, but it can technically be skipped. If your child does not receive his or her varicella vaccination, then he or she should undergo a blood test when he or she turns 13 years of age if he or she has never had chickenpox.
While these vaccinations are recommended shortly after your child’s birthday, many physicians will spread out the vaccinations up to the 18th month. At 18 months, your child will receive another DTaP vaccination, followed by another vaccination for hepatitis A right around his or her second birthday. The next round of vaccinations does not occur until your child is four years old, which consist of DTaP, IPV, varicella and MMR.
There is a long break between vaccinations. The next set of vaccinations does not occur until your child is 11 years of age. At this point, your child should receive the following vaccinations:
- TDaP booster
- MCV, which is for meningococcal disease
- HPV, which is for human papillomavirus and should be administered in two doses, with at least a six-month gap between the first and second dose
The final vaccination for your child occurs when he or she turns 16 years of age when he or she will receive one last MCV booster vaccination. It is important to note, many public and private schools have strict vaccination requirements. If you are unable to provide proof your child was properly vaccinated, then he or she will not be able to attend schools at these locations, as the school will view your child as a potential health risk. Additional vaccinations may also be required depending on the medical history of your child.
The government established the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to ensure that all children receive the medical care they need. Parents who cannot afford health insurance may be able to enroll their children in the program to cover the cost of needed immunizations.
Like adults, children should undergo annual physicals. However, these examinations are very different for children. Children who are younger than two years of age will visit their physician much more frequently than an adult will. The exact schedule will vary from child to child, but typically the child will undergo a physical examination every three months until he or she is two-and-a-half years of age. After this period, your child will revert to a traditional scheduling period, where he or she sees his or her physician once a year.
During the early examinations, doctors will check for many things. One of the very first procedures children undergo is a blood screening for hepatitis B. Your doctor will ask many developmental questions, such as whether or not your child is walking, if he or she has spoken yet, how toilet training is going and whether or not your child is reading, just to give a few examples. Doctors will pay special attention to the height and weight of your child during the first three years.
By the time your child is four years of age, he or she should have had a vision and hearing screening. Depending on where you live, these tests may even be administered at local schools. Right around this age, your child’s doctor will also start to measure blood pressure. Additional tests may be performed depending on family history. For example, if your family has a history of high cholesterol levels, then doctors may wish to perform a cholesterol blood test for your child. Children considered at risk for anemia may have their iron levels frequently measured.
In addition to the physical development of your child, the doctor may ask about his or her cognitive development or emotional state. Preventive mental health screenings are just as important as biological tests. Parents may have noticed an inability to focus in school or other behavioral concerns. Doctors are able to provide advice to parents about mental health resources.
Dental care is very important for children, especially during their early years when their teeth are still growing in. If you do not have fluoride available in your water, then your physician or dentist will most likely recommend fluoride supplements. Many physicians and dentists recommend using a fluoride varnish for infants and children, once their teeth have grown in.