The natural thing to do when we look at a group of children is to observe their physical characteristics. We see how tall some are, and how some haven’t seemed to grow as much as compared to their peers. However, the reality is that each child grows at a different pace.
Just as with adults, everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, and it is hard to tell what is “normal” and what isn’t, more so with kids who are still growing. What may ‘appear’ unhealthy may not be so and may change in a matter of months too!
Genetics plays a huge role in the growth and development of a child, as does nutrition, gender, level of physical activity, medical conditions, hormones, lifestyle, and environment. You may ask then, how you could figure out if your child is in the healthy weight and height range.
Growth charts formulated by doctors can put your concerns about development and health of your child to rest.
A growth chart is used to measure your baby’s development and growth rate. It is a tool that will help you track milestones that your baby is crossing and enable you to figure out if his growth is within the healthy range.
It is important to know that there is a difference in the rate at which baby girls and baby boys grow. This is why you will find separate growth charts for girls and boys.
A growth chart uses three parameters to track your baby’s overall growth and development-
In order to assess your baby’s growth, you need to measure/get these parameters measured by your baby’s paediatrician. Once you have the measurements, enter these numbers into your baby’s growth chart. These numbers need to be tracked over a period of time. These measurements will reflect whether or not your baby is growing as per the standard/expected growth rate. It is also advised to discuss these numbers with your paediatrician who will help ensure that your little one’s growth is in accordance to the standard/normal curve.
The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes Growth Charts, which describe the optimal growth for healthy, breastfed children. Girls and boys are measured on different growth charts because they grow in different patterns and at different rates.
Percentiles are measurements that depict where a child’s growth is when compared with other children of the same age and gender. It is a very commonly used clinical metric to analyse the growth patterns of children. On growth charts, percentiles are usually shown as lines drawn in curved patterns.
This is how a percentile works- it ranks your child’s position by showing the percentage of the reference population that your child would equal/exceed. For example: if your child’s weight is in the 75th percentile, this means her weight is more than 75 children and less than 25 children when compared to 100 children in her age group.
When a doctor plots a child’s growth on the chart, they check the percentile range that the child’s measurements land on. A higher percentile indicates that your child is bigger when compared to other kids of the same age and gender. If the percentile number is low, it indicates your child is smaller than his/her contemporaries.
The ideal range in the growth chart has been defined as per the Percentiles data provided by the WHO. The WHO provides percentile range from 3rd to 97th percentile for each stage of baby’s growth starting from birth to 5 years. For example: for a 1-month-old baby girl, 3rd and 97th percentile weight measurements are 3.2 kg and 5.4 kg respectively. So, the ideal weight range for a 1-month-old baby girl is 3.2-5.4 kg.
If you notice temporary fluctuations in your baby’s growth curve, don’t get too anxious. This is quite normal. If your baby is going through a growth spurt, the growth chart might display an upsurge. Similarly, if your baby has just been through a spate of illness, the chart might indicate a temporary down.
However, if your doctor notices that your baby is not keeping up with her curve over time, he will conduct a thorough check to diagnose if something is preventing your baby from growing optimally.
While growth charts are effective screening tools to track your child’s health, they do not point out underlying health problems. They will simply alert you of drops and spikes in growth that may urge you to investigate further.
In case of any concerns with your baby’s growth curve, it is always best to consult your paediatrician before taking any action or making any modifications to her feeding, sleeping habits, physical activities, etc. Your doctor will be able to ascertain if there really is anything to worry about and also give you the reassurance as well as next steps for action to be taken.