Healthcare for under 5s

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When you have your first child, it can be very daunting when it comes to looking after them and their health. From newborn babies to toddlers, looking after the health of under fives is important to give them the best possible start in life. Dr Jurgita gives advice on dealing with common health problems.

A healthy diet

When you have a baby, you will be faced with the question of whether or not to breastfeed. Breastfeeding carries many advantages, including health benefits for you and your baby such as decreasing the risk of them developing diarrhoea and vomiting, for example. It is also available whenever your baby needs to feed. A mother’s milk also has immunoglobulins which help to build the child’s immune system. Formula milk usually contains added vitamins so if you’re breast feeding consult your GP for advice on vitamin D supplements.

However, breastfeeding is not for everyone, and many decide to feed their baby with formula. To make sure this doesn’t contain any bacteria, you should make up formula as and when your baby needs it, using boiling water Always make sure this is cool before you give it to your baby.

Children should start to be weaned onto solid foods from around six months of age. This will begin with mashed and soft foods such as fruits, vegetables and rice. This can then be extended to include mashed fish or chicken or small pieces of toast, for example.

After about nine months old, you should aim to give your child around four servings a day of starchy foods like bread, potatoes and rice; around four servings a day of fruit and vegetables; and a couple of servings of meat, fish, eggs or pulses. This will help your child have a healthy, balanced diet.

Exercise and staying fit

Keeping active and fit is important for the development of children under five. Babies should be encouraged to move even before they can crawl, by reaching and grasping and moving their limbs and body every day. Once babies can move, they should be as active as possible as part of play.

When children are toddlers and can move and walk on their own they should be active for at least three hours every day. This can comprise of a range of light activity, such as skipping, hopping, running and jumping, or more energetic activity like riding a bike, playing ball games and playing in water.

You should try to avoid your under five being inactive for a long period of time, such as watching TV, being strapped into a buggy or travelling by car, bus or train.

Spotting illnesses

Young children’s immune system takes time to build up and it’s normal for a child to have a cold almost every month until the age of six. Usually, it does not require any serious medication. However as it is not always possible for your child to tell you how they are feeling when they are unwell, it is important to be able to spot the signs of serious illness. If you spot the following symptoms in your child, seek medical care:

  • · a high-pitched, weak or continuous cry
  • · not drinking for more than eight hours (taking solid food is not as important)
  • · difficulty breathing, fast breathing, or laboured breathing, such as sucking their stomach in under their ribs
  • · your child is unable to stay awake even when you wake them

If you find that your child stops breathing, is unconscious and won’t wake up, or has a fit, you should call an ambulance immediately.

More information on health, fitness and spotting illness in your child can be found on the NHS Choices website.

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