Pediatrics

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Pediatrics is the branch of medicine dealing with the health and medical care of infants, children, and adolescents from birth up to the age of 18. Pediatricians provide preventative health services for healthy children, and are also trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of childhood illnesses from minor health problems to serious diseases. 

This section contains more details about what pediatricians do, as well as information about the different stages of a child’s development. Whether your child is a newborn, in early or middle childhood, or an adolescent – the following pages can provide a useful guide for you as parent.

Furthermore, the page Immunisations and Disease Prevention gives answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the safety, benefits and risks of childhood vaccines.

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Pediatrics is the branch of medicine dealing with the health and medical care of infants, children, and adolescents from birth up to the age of 18. Pediatrics is a relatively new medical specialty, which developed only in the mid-19th century.

What is a pediatrician?

Pediatricians are medical doctor who have specialised training in the physical, emotional, and behavioural needs of children. Pediatricians provide preventative health services for healthy children, and are also trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of childhood illnesses from minor health problems to serious diseases. 

What does a pediatrician do?

Pediatricians aim to reduce infant and child rate of deaths, control the spread of infectious disease, promote healthy lifestyles and help ease the problems of children and adolescents with chronic conditions. Pediatricians are involved with the prevention, early detection, treatment and management of problems among children including:

  • Injuries
  • Infections
  • Genetic and congenital conditions
  • Cancers
  • Organ diseases and dysfunctions
  • Developmental delays and disorders
  • Behavioural problems
  • Functional disabilities
  • Mental disorders including depression and anxiety disorders

Pediatrics is concerned not only with the immediate management of an ill child but also long-term effects of an illness on quality of life, disability and survival.

Why do you need a pediatrician?

Choosing between a family doctor and a pediatrician is usually a personal preference. While family physicians can provide routine care for children, many families prefer seeing a pediatrician for health issues concerning their children. This is because pediatricians work entirely with children, so they often have a broader experience recognising and treating childhood illnesses. If your child was born early or has a health condition that needs close monitoring, a pediatrician may also be able to offer more specialised care.

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Early and middle childhood, which ranges from toddlerhood to age 12, is a time of tremendous physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. Studies show that experiences in these first years of life are extremely important for a child’s healthy development and lifelong learning.

How a child develops during early and middle childhood influences their school readiness, affects their skills for building healthy relationships and can lay the foundation for success later in life. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , research on a number of adult health and medical conditions also points to predisease pathways that have their beginnings in early and middle childhood.

More than any other developmental period, early and middle childhood sets the stage for:

  • Good nutrition and fitness:  According to Mayo Clinic , nutrition and fitness are the cornerstones of children's health. Teaching your child to make good food choices now, such as eating a variety of healthy foods and controlling portion sizes, sets the stage for a lifelong healthy diet. In terms of fitness, consider classic tips from children's health experts, such as encouraging activity — not exercise — and setting a good example yourself.
  • Self-discipline: Simple household rules can help promote self-discipline. An example is getting your child into the habit of going to bed at a regular time each night, which will ensure good sleep for both you and your child for years to come.
  • The ability to make good decisions about risky situations: A very important skill for children to develop is the ability to make thoughtful and positive decisions when it comes to risky behaviours. If talk turns to sex education, remember that elementary students don't need a single tell-all discussion. Follow your child's cues about what he or she needs to know — and when.
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Adolescence describes the teenage years between 12 and 18, and can be considered the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. During adolescence, teens often struggle with their body changes, mood swings and social issues. The transitional period can bring up issues of independence and self-identity, and some adolescents may be experimenting with drugs, alcohol or their sexuality. During this time, peer groups and external appearance tend to increase in importance.

Although adolescence is generally a healthy time of life, several important health and social problems either start or peak during these years, including:

  • Violence
  • Mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Unplanned pregnancies

Environmental factors, including family, peer group, school and neighbourhood can either support or challenge a teenager’s health and wellbeing. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , research shows that adolescents who feel that they have good communication and are bonded with an adult are less likely to engage in risky behaviours.

While adolescence can be a challenge for parents, it is possible to foster healthy conversations with your adolescent about peer pressure, body self-image, sexuality and substance abuse. For tips, see Parenting in the Teen Years.

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Immunisation has greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases. It is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting your child and yourself against some diseases that can cause serious illnesses and sometimes death. And if your child is protected, he or she won’t be able to pass the infection on to other people, especially very young babies who haven’t been fully immunised yet.

Why does my child need to be immunised?

For over 50 years, immunisations have protected millions of children against serious illnesses. In fact, they have reduced the number of infections from vaccine-preventable diseases by more than 90%. Yet many parents still question their safety because of misinformation they’ve received.

Why are some of these vaccines still needed if the diseases are not as common anymore?

These diseases are less common in large part due to vaccines. If vaccines were not given, the bacteria and viruses that cause these diseases could begin to infect more and more children again.

Can someone who has been immunised still get vaccine-preventable diseases?

While most childhood vaccines are 90% to 99% effective in preventing disease, it is still possible for a person to contract a vaccine-preventable illness. And if a vaccinated child does get the disease, the symptoms are usually milder with less serious side effects or complications than in a child who hasn’t been vaccinated.

What side effects will my child have after getting a vaccine?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics , serious side effects are no more common than those from other types of medication such as antibiotics, fever reducers and pain relievers. There may be mild side effects, like swelling, redness, and tenderness where the shot was given. Your child may also have a slight fever and be irritable for a short time afterward. Most reactions occur within 48 hours of having the immunisation.

Where can I have my child immunised?

Immunisations can be provided by your doctor, immunisation clinics, local councils, community child health nurses and some hospitals.

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