By Gail O’Connor
Once your baby has been in your life for just a short time, you’ll be able to recite certain details about her by heart, from how much she weighed at birth to the day she beamed her first smile. But in an emergency, would you know the correct names of any medications she has recently taken? Or if a physician asked, could you recall which lab tests she’s received, and their results?
While your pediatrician has this and other important information in your baby’s medical chart, the chart won’t always be immediately available to the medical professional who may need it. “In this day and age, babies are often examined by another pediatrician, or in the emergency room or when out of town on vacation—it seems babies often get sick away from home,” explains Marjorie Hogan, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and director of Pediatric Medical Education at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
Someday, Hogan anticipates, most electronic medical records will be in wide use and will help make information more readily accessible. But until then, maintaining your own record of your baby’s budding health history can keep you prepared for the unexpected, as well as help you share insightful information with your pediatrician at your next well visit. How you keep these records doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a system that’s simple enough to work for you; even a single notebook and a folder or binder for paperwork can suffice.
To get started, plan to record the following information during your baby’s first six months of life.
“In the first couple of weeks it can be helpful to record feedings: how much the baby is eating and how frequently,” advises Peter Contini, M.D., a pediatrician in San Jose, California. “But for new parents who are busy and sleep-deprived, it can be hard to remember these things.”
He suggests keeping a simple log of how long and how often your baby has nursed, or if you’re using formula, how many ounces of it he has ingested. Also, keep track of the number of wet and soiled diapers he produces during the first 72 hours. “What goes in has to come out,” says Contini. “So, if your baby is peeing and pooping appropriately, more than likely he or she is getting enough breast milk or formula.”
Minimally, says Contini, your pediatrician is looking for evidence of a bowel movement in the first 24 hours and urination once in the first 24 hours, twice in the next 24 hours, and three times in the following 24 hours. Another occasion to track feedings and diaper changes: If your baby becomes ill, a simple record will be helpful to the doctor treating him.
Weight and height
Your infant’s growth—her weight and length, plus head circumference—is vital information for your pediatrician. “It’s one of the most important—if not the most important—pieces of information in a pediatrician’s chart,” says Contini. “A normal growth rate indicates adequate caloric intake and implies general good health.”
Your baby’s measurements are also important for dispensing medication to her if the need arises. If parents need assistance after hours and can provide accurate, recent weight information, explains Maurice J. Chianese, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Pro- HEALTH Care Associates in Lake Success, New York, a pediatrician can advise them on the correct dosage of medications over the telephone. If you’re already faithfully recording every ounce and inch in a baby book or on a growth chart of your own, simply keep the information (along with any other pertinent facts) where your spouse and a babysitter can find it.
Tests, hospital stays, and letters from consultants
Although copies of tests—from your newborn’s screening to hearing tests— will be in your child’s medical chart, pediatricians themselves may not be able to access such information right away. “It’s often very hard even for doctors to read other doctors’ handwriting, plus it can be very difficult to sift through all the paper in a medical chart and find out if a test was done,” says Contini.
If you need to know whether your child has ever been tested for X or Y, keeping a simple list of those tests and their results can help expedite answers for your doctor, as will recording any stays in the hospital (and for what reason and for how long).
Request your own copies of letters from any specialists or consultants and keep them on file. You can’t assume doctors are always communicating with each other, but if you have copies of their reports, you’ll always be able to provide them if needed later.
Most states have an official immunization card you’ll bring to the pediatrician’s office for updating every time your baby receives an injection. “You’re going to need this information once you register your child for school,” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005).
Keep the card in a safe place. Even though some practices now keep computer files of immunization records, some offices will charge you $5 to $15 to make a copy of a lost card, just because of the time it takes. Parents of adopted children should try to get information about any vaccinations their baby may have already received, particularly if their child was born abroad.
A list of crucial information you should document during the first few months.