The combination of a child’s health, nutrition and development are paramount to them unlocking their full potential. Central to the realization of this is a parent’s or caregiver’s ability to quickly recognize and respond to ill health, to ensure correct nutrition and to provide early learning opportunities (8,10-12). Without such, children are susceptible to illness, stunting and general developmental delays (1-4), affecting their health and developmental trajectory throughout their lives and perpetuating the cycle of inequity in today’s societies (5-7).

But how do parents magically know how to recognize and respond to ill health, what to feed their children and when, and how to provide age-appropriate learning opportunities to their children?

Well, parents have been “winging it” for centuries!

But nowadays, you either rely on advice from the superheroes who have successfully parented in the past or you have a tower of contradicting self-help books or you have an impressive list of Google questions in your internet history or the combination of all three!

While there is nothing wrong with any of the above mechanisms (gone are the days of parent-shaming!), South Africa’s Department of Health (in collaboration with many partners) has made the life of new parents a lot easier! Anyone and everyone can now access evidence-based and child-health expert informed information about your child’s health, growth and development through messages in the Road to Health booklet, Side by Side Campaign as well as the opportunity for you to ask any question to health experts via MomConnect. And all this free!

This new Road-to-Health booklet and Side-by-Side campaign are evidence of the commitment of South Africa’s Department of Health to unlocking your child’s potential (and all children in South Africa!) through targeting their health, growth and development (8).

The Road-to-Health booklet monitors your child’s growth (and messages on the what, when and how when it comes to food and your little one), monitors your child’s development (with developmental screening checklists that monitor communication, fine motor, gross motor and play milestones and who to go to if your child is struggling to reach their milestones) and ensures your child’s optimal health (with immunizations and messages on how to manage common illnesses like diarrhoea and when to go to the clinic or doctor).

Example of a post from the SidebySide campaign where you can ask child experts any question via MomConnect

Every parent or parent-to-be can help unlock their child’s potential by:

  • Joining MomConnect (dial *134*550# to subscribe, it’s free) and ask any pregnancy or childcare question in any South African language.
  • Following “SidebySide” on social media forums.
  • If you do not already have the new Road to Health booklet, download its app/download and print it (



  1. World Health Organization, UNICEF. Nurturing care for early childhood development: A framework for linking SURVIVE and THRIVE to TRANSFORM health and human potential. 2018.
  2. Richter LM, Daelmans B, Lombardi J, Heymann J, Boo FL, Behrman JR, et al. Investing in the foundation of sustainable development: pathways to scale up for early childhood development. The Lancet. 2017;389(10064):103-18.
  3. Sifuna DN. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) in Sub-Saharan Africa: a critical but neglected sector of education. Papers in Education and Development. 2018(31).
  4. Grantham‐McGregor SM, Fernald LC, Kagawa R, Walker S. Effects of integrated child development and nutrition interventions on child development and nutritional status. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2014;1308(1):11-32.
  5. Hall K, Sambu W, Berry L. Early Childhood Development: A statistical brief. Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town and llifa Labantwana. 2014.
  6. Chan M. Linking child survival and child development for health, equity, and sustainable development. The Lancet. 2013;381(9877):1514-5.
  7. Black MM, Dewey KG. Promoting equity through integrated early child development and nutrition interventions. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2014;1308(1):1-10.
  8. Slemming W, Bamford L. The new Road to Health Booklet demands a paradigm shift. South African Journal of Child Health. 2018;12(3):86-7.