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Caring For Your Adopted Baby

If you've recently adopted a child, you're probably both excited about the new addition to your family and concerned about her health history. While adoption can bring unique health and developmental challenges, you don't have to face them on your own: Your pediatrician can help you meet your baby's specific needs. Here are tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics to get your child off to a healthy start:

* Get a medical evaluation. Your baby's doctor can assess her growth and development and conduct age-appropriate screening tests, such as checking for possible anemia and a visual or hearing impairment. If your child hasn't been immunized or if no record is available, she'll get a full series of immunizations. (There's no harm in repeating shots if the records are unclear.) You can also ask the doctor to review preadoption files, if available, in order to help you understand any current or potential medical, developmental and mental health needs your baby may have.

* Be aware that international adoptees may have special medical needs. If your baby was born in a foreign country, the pediatrician may screen her for hepatitis B and C, HIV, intestinal parasites, syphilis, and tuberculosis, in addition to standard newborn screening tests. While some foreign-born babies may be malnourished, they usually thrive on a normal diet. These children can also get several illnesses soon after they arrive in a new environment, but this, too, is generally a temporary condition. Finally, babies from certain countries may be at higher risk of exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb. Your pediatrician can help you anticipate and deal with any related health or developmental issues.

* Prepare for the future. Begin telling your child the story of her adoption now, and make "adoption" and other related words part of your everyday language. Any level of openness you can build when your child is young will help as she gets older and starts to ask questions. Plan to discuss adoption with your child as soon as she's able to understand, usually around age 3.

* Deal with others. Even when adoption is handled well at home, there may be relatives who aren't quite as understanding—especially when a child is of a different race or from another country. If this happens, explain that your baby is as much a part of the family as anyone else. You may not be able to change their mind or correct old-fashioned thinking, but it's important to show loyalty to your child. Your pediatrician can be a valuable source of support and can refer you to local community resources for adoptive families. The better you understand adoption, the better you can teach your child to be proud of who she is.