Adoptive Parents Often Become Health Detectives

Health Notes Archives - Click HereBy Christina Elston

Expectant parents can hardly wait to count the fingers and toes of their healthy newborn. But for parents who are adopting a child, the quest for health information is much more complicated.

"Almost never is all of the information available that a doctor would prefer to have," Nancy Curtis, M.D., says of children available for adoption. Curtis is the medical director of the International Adoption Clinic at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif. She urges all prospective adoptive parents to do the best they can in researching the health history of a baby or child. Unfortunately, those who don't make the effort can get through the adoption process only to find that they now have a child with health issues they aren't prepared to cope with.

Ideally, adoptive parents should be able to find out:

  • The mother's age at time of birth, whether she has any history of substance abuse and whether she has had other children;
  • The type of facility the child was born in and whether there were complications with the delivery;
  • Whether the child was born prematurely or full term, and the baby's weight and head circumference at birth (which can indicate how healthy the pregnancy was);
  • Some measure of the child's growth over time and any other developmental information available;
  • Any recurrent medical conditions such as anemia, ear infections or heart disease; and
  • The results of essential lab tests, such as tests for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis.

If you are adopting internationally, health information will be more difficult to come by. Ask for help from your adoption agency or hire a research agency, such as the International Adoption Clinic, to do a pre-adoption medical review.

"I highly recommend finding someone who does it all the time," says Curtis. "The records are complicated. You have to sift through the little information that is available to assess medical risk, wringing every last drop of fact out of what you see or read."

Christina Elston is a senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.

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