Medical Issues When you Adopt

Adopting a child, and the process leading up to it, can be a roller coaster of emotions. It can be an exciting time. You’re expanding your family. Your heart ­­­— and your life — will change in ways you never could have imagined.

But it can also be a very stressful time. Questions swirl through your mind. Where does this child come from? Does he or she have any issues I don’t know about? Why is he or she being put up for adoption?

You may not get all the answers. Children are put up for adoption for all sorts of reasons. They can range from teenage pregnancy to parental abuse to drug or alcohol use or even various legal regulations of a country.

But you do want to get medical information about the child. The more you know, the better prepared you will be. And the better care you will be able to give to your child for the rest of his life.

Path to improved health and well being

Depending on what kind of adoption you are going through, you may be able to get a great deal of health information. In an open or semi-open adoption, you can meet the mother and possibly the father. So you should be able to find out a lot. With an open adoption, you may even help arrange the birth mother’s prenatal care.

If you’re adopting an older child who is living in the United States, you may be able to get a general sense of his or her health by spending time with the child or by serving as a foster parent before you adopt.

You may not get all of the following, but ask for as much as you can, such as:

  • The age, education, ethnic background, and any genetic conditions of the birth parents and/or birth siblings.
  • Description of the pregnancy, labor and delivery, and any details on the birth mother’s lifestyle during pregnancy. Did she smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs? Did she use any prescription or over-the-counter medicines?
  • Information on whether or not the birth mother had any infectious diseases (including hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis).
  • Information on the birth mother’s prenatal care and results of any tests done during pregnancy.
  • The child’s birth measurements (weight, length, head circumference), gestational age, and any unusual findings.
  • Results of any medical and lab tests or infectious disease screenings.
  • Records of any immunizations, hospitalizations, or surgeries the child has had.
  • A record of the child’s growth and developmental milestones.
  • Any medicine, food, or seasonal allergies.
  • Whether the child has experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

Things to consider

If you’re traveling to another country to adopt, make sure you get all the immunizations you’ll need before you travel. Additionally, find out what immunizations are necessary for anyone living in your house.

Be aware that when children get to their new homes, they’re often exposed to new germs and a new diet. This can often cause colds, minor infections, and upset stomachs as the children adjust. Minor illnesses like these will probably resolve themselves.

Newly adopted children may also have emotional problems related to feeding. They may hoard their food (to the point of vomiting). These too will likely clear up on their own as the children adjust.

When to see a doctor

It may be hard to interpret all the health information you may be getting yourself, so find a doctor who has experience in adoption and foster care adoption. If you’re adopting from another country, be sure your provider has experience with children with that background.

If you can get photos or videos, the doctor will look for the child’s size, growth patterns, and any signs of fetal alcohol syndrome. Videos can be particularly helpful in evaluating language development.

If you’re adopting a child who has spent time in foster care, see if the agency can tell you where the child has been getting taken care of so you can get those health records.

Once you’ve got the child home, you’ll want to:

Get a complete checkup. On your first visit, your child should be tested for any infections or diseases. He or she should also be screened for lead, and to see if he or she was exposed to any drugs or alcohol before birth. If your child has come in from another country, she’s been required to undergo a medical examination in her home country. However, an exam is still critical when she arrives in the United States. Lab results from other countries may not be reliable, and you’ll want your own doctor to screen for all possible disabilities and illnesses.

Make sure all vaccinations are up to date. Your doctor may want to do blood tests to make sure the child is truly immunized. Depending on where the shots were given, they may need to be done again.

Evaluate your child’s developmental skills. Children who have not gotten proper care are at increased risk for growth and developmental delays as well as mental health problems. Bring any concerns you may have to your child’s doctor. He can do a general developmental evaluation and, if necessary, refer you to a speech, physical, or occupational therapist. The earlier your child gets therapy the more likely it is she’ll catch up.

Questions for your doctor

  • What types of vaccinations will my child need?
  • What types of vaccinations should the others in our household need?
  • What developmental milestones should I be looking for and when?
  • Any red flags I should look out for in my child?
  • As a foster parent, do I need any type of special consent to bring the child in for medical treatment?
  • What’s my child’s nutritional status, and how do I get him back on track?



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