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Infant and Toddler Health

The first three years can be critical to your child's development. With proper care and nutrition, you can lay a healthy foundation for the rest of your little one's life.


Childproofing your home

Prevent your child from unintentional injury. To create a childproof home, consider these tips:

  • Install safety latches and locks. Keep poisonous or dangerous items out of reach by childproofing cupboards and drawers in the kitchen, bathroom and other areas.
  • Put up safety gates and window guards. Keep little ones from falling down stairs, out of windows or off of balconies.
  • Make some rooms off limits. For rooms you don't use that often or ones that contain dangerous items, close doors and cover them with safety locks instead of using gates.
  • Cover your electrical outlets. Use outlet covers and outlet plates to prevent electric shock and electrocution.
  • Put corner and edge bumpers on furniture and hearth edges. Prevent bumps, bruises and more serious injuries by making sure they are fastened securely.
  • Anchor furniture and appliances. Prevent furniture and appliances from tipping over onto your active little ones.
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Put smoke alarms on each floor of your home. Place carbon monoxide alarms near bedrooms.
  • Secure mini-blind cords. Prevent strangling by using a loop-free tassel or cord stops on mini-blinds.
  • Use anti-scalding devices. Set your water temperature no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the likelihood of burns.
  • Prevent drowning. Always supervise your child in the bathtub and install a safety latch on toilets. If you have a pool or hot tub, keep it off limits to unsupervised children.

Get more safety and injury-prevention tips from Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in partnership with UnitedHealthcare.

Many everyday products should be kept out of the reach of children. Learn more about common household products that could put your family at risk.

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Colds and flu

Not sure if your child has a cold or flu? Check to see if he or she has a fever, it may mean the flu. Keep in mind that the thermometer type can affect the reading. In general, your child has a fever if their temperature is:

  • 100.4°F or higher by rectum
  • 99.5°F or higher by ear
  • 99°F or higher under arm

Other signs that may indicate your child has the flu:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Headache and body aches
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

If you think your child has the flu, it's a good idea to call your doctor's office or the NurseLine. Even if it's just a cold, ask about ways to alleviate symptoms, which may include:

  • Making sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks lots of fluids
  • Giving your child some over-the-counter medication to relieve symptoms – but nothing with aspirin in it

Children under 5 are typically at a higher risk of serious flu-related complications, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Opens a new window. Talk to your doctor about getting your child vaccinated when he or she is old enough – generally around 6 months.

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Earaches and ear infections

Ear infections are a common health concern for babies and toddlers. But that doesn't mean every earache is caused by an ear infection. Your child's ear could be irritated from soap, shampoo or water stuck in the ear, too.

Consider calling your doctor if your child has these ear infection symptoms:

  • Ear pulling or tugging
  • Increased crying
  • Fluid draining out of ears
  • Trouble balancing, hearing or sleeping

Follow your doctor's recommendations on treating your child's ear infection, which may include antibiotics. Discuss these home methods for relieving pain and pressure with your doctor:

  • Place a cold wet wash cloth to the outer ear for 20 minutes
  • Help your child rest in an upright position if it's painful to lay flat
  • Use over-the-counter ear drops to loosen build-up
  • Give your child over-the-counter, child-safe pain relievers

If fluids from an ear infection stay in your child's ears for several months, they may need surgery. A myringotomy – or placing small tubes inside your child's ears – helps relieve pressure and prevents fluid build-up. Ask your doctor about this option if your child is struggling with persistent ear infections.

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As your child grows, their eating habits and nutrition needs change.

  • 0 to 4 months. You can meet all your baby's nutritional needs with breast milk or iron-fortified formula. If you breastfeed, eat about 500 extra calories a day and drink plenty of liquids.
  • 4 to 12 months. Start supplementing breast milk (or 24 ounces of formula a day) with portions of soft, solid foods.
  • 12 to 24 months. Feed your baby about 2 to 3 cups of whole milk daily. Mix in a variety of nutritious foods from the major food groups.
  • 2 years and older. Follow the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recommended dietary guidelines, which include:
    • Plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk products
    • Lean meats, beans, eggs and nuts
    • Foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and sugars

Besides balancing their nutrition, keep your children safe from possible food allergies.

  • Before age 1: Don't feed children eggs, citrus fruits and juices, cow's milk or honey.
  • Before ages 2 to 3: Don't feed children seafood, peanuts or tree nuts.

It's important to set a good example for your child to develop good, healthy eating habits. Consider eating together as a family and pack healthy snacks when you're on-the-go. Try new foods with your child and encourage them to help you cook. Serve fruits and other healthy sweets as dessert and snack food.

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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplainable death of infants. It's the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 12 months.

Although the exact cause of SIDS is unknown, you can take steps to protect your baby. Experts believe these precautions may help reduce the risk of SIDS:

  • Put your baby to sleep on his or her back
  • Don't smoke during or after pregnancy
  • Offer a pacifier at naptime or bedtime
  • Choose a firm mattress for your baby's crib
  • Keep soft toys and loose bedding out of your baby's crib
  • Dress your baby in light pajamas and keep the room temperature comfortable to avoid overheating

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Screenings and immunizations

Keeping your child healthy is a top priority. Regular preventive care allows your doctor to prevent and detect disease, if it occurs, so treatment has the best chance of success.  Use UnitedHealthcare's online tool to get recommended immunization and screening schedules for each member of your family. It is important to attend all well-child visits and ensure that childhood immunizations are administered on time. Talk to your doctor about your specific questions and concerns regarding your child's health, and use these guidelines, along with the advice of your doctor, to help your child stay healthy.

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Thrush is very common in infants, but this fungal infection of the mouth and throat can be worrisome for parents. Also called candidiasis, thrush is caused by the overgrowth of Candida albicans. This fungus lives naturally in the body. Most people have it somewhere on their skin, for example, or in the mouth or digestive tract. Most of the time, Candida is kept in check by the body's "good" bacteria and a healthful immune system. But, sometimes it can multiply until it becomes an infection.

Thrush is especially common in babies younger than age 6 months. This may be in part because their immune systems aren't yet fully developed. Babies also might get thrush after receiving antibiotics. These medicines can kill off the good bacteria that help keep Candida under control.

Symptoms. You may have noticed patches in your baby's mouth that look like cottage cheese. This is a common sign of thrush. Your baby's mouth may also be red, sore and have cracked skin at the corners. The condition often is painless. But, some babies may show discomfort when they eat. Thrush also may be accompanied by diaper rash because the same fungus can cause both conditions.

Treatment. Thrush often goes away on its own within a week or two. Still, it's best to talk with your child's doctor. He or she may prescribe an antifungal medicine for your baby's mouth that you can apply with a dropper. If you're breastfeeding, ask your doctor if you need to use an antifungal ointment on your breasts. You may be passing the infection back and forth between you and your baby. Also, be sure to wash bottle nipples and pacifiers after use to prevent reinfection.

Oral thrush rarely leads to a more serious infection in babies. But, talk with your child's doctor if it recurs. It may be a sign of other health issues.

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Source for Thrush information: Healthy Mind Healthy Body®, Michael Rosen, M.D., May 2010.

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