As a parent, it’s completely natural to want to know more information about your baby’s growing journey. Are they healthy? Are they growing alright? Are they happy? Yesterday, we saw the 9 signs of a healthy and thriving baby. Today, we will delve into the Child Growth Standards Chart, which helps you measure a child’s height, weight, and length according to their age. This helps parents understand whether their child is growing well.
This article is more of an FYI for those parents who are interested in knowing all about a baby’s growth charts. We do not recommend that parents assess or diagnose their babies (and their growth) themselves, but instead they can use this information as a way to understand growth charts. When in doubt, always consult your doctor.
If you find this information is too much or overwhelming, please feel free to skip it.
Why Use a Growth Chart?
A growth chart is commonly used by pediatricians and is a tool to assess a baby’s overall growth. Growth charts are not focused on the “numbers” (your baby’s weight or height). It’s just a simple, effective way to assess their growth and offers a bird’s-eye view of whether a baby is growing well or not.
Since we cannot manually measure intangible factors like a baby’s brain development or bone development, this is a standard tool used by most doctors.
Assessing Your Baby’s Growth Can Be Confusing
As a parent, you may have faced this sometimes: You’re out with your child, and a stranger or a relative passes a comment on your baby being too thin, too fat, too chubby, too dark, too loud, too active… and the list goes on! It can be infuriating but also concerning as we sometimes believe what people say. In fact, the baby is clueless about all these comments, but the parent may be deeply affected. This can place unnecessary pressure on parents and can indirectly affect mealtimes and how they relate with their baby.
As you know, babies come in all shapes and sizes. There’s nothing like “this is how a baby should look at XYZ age!” Rest assured, babies grow at their own individual pace and you’re doing your best as a parent to give them all the nourishment and learning opportunities they need.
Each baby will have a unique growth pattern, which is dependent on many factors like gender, genetics, metabolism, nutrition, environment, hormones, and more. For example, if both the parents are petite or are short in height, most likely their baby will be petite or short too. Because of these factors, parents may find it confusing to assess whether their baby is growing well.
So how can you check whether your baby is growing sufficiently for their age and stage?
One way to do this is to watch for the key signs of a healthy and thriving baby (“9 Signs Your Baby Is Healthy & Thriving!”).
Another way is to do this is by using a growth chart (also known as Child Growth Standards Chart). As mentioned earlier, this information is mainly for you to understand what a growth chart is and not for you to assess or diagnose your baby yourself.
Decoding Babies’ Growth Charts: Step by Step
What does a growth chart tell you?
A Child Growth Standards chart helps doctors and parents see if a child is growing properly. It shows the expected height and weight for kids at different ages.
In other words, the chart shows what the height and weight of babies of a particular age group should generally be. This information is simply plotted on a graph.
By comparing a child's measurements to the chart, we can tell if they are growing as they should or if there might be a problem with their growth.
Standard charts used
There are different kinds of growth charts available for babies worldwide by popular organizations. Generally, in India, the growth charts by WHO (World Health Organization) are popular among doctors, educators, and parents.
You can find the WHO growth charts here: https://www.who.int/tools/child-growth-standards/standards/weight-for-age
The growth charts are segmented as per:
1) age group: 0-6 months, 0-2 years, 2-5 years, etc.
2) gender: boy or girl
So, choose the right category: your baby’s gender + your baby’s age group + height or weight.
Next, in the left-hand tab, you can see various growth charts, including:
1) Weight for age
2) Length/height for age
3) Weight for length/height
4) Head circumference for age, and so on
There are also separate charts available for premature babies or those with down syndrome, as their growth curve and standards will be very different.
How to read the chart?
Open one of the charts in the link given above (click on a category that has “Percentiles” in the heading). Also, match your baby’s gender and age
Here are some quick links to use as an example:
Girls chart- Weight-for-age: Birth to 2 years (percentiles) - https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/child-growth/child-growth-standards/indicators/weight-for-age/cht-wfa-girls-p-0-2.pdf?sfvrsn=37c200a9_12
Boys chart- Weight-for-age: Birth to 2 years (percentiles) - https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/child-growth/child-growth-standards/indicators/weight-for-age/cht-wfa-boys-p-0-2.pdf?sfvrsn=4db44d93_12
On any chart, you will observe various percentiles placed inside the graph, such as 5th, 10th, 50th, or 85th. What does this number mean?
Percentiles are measurements that show how your child is growing as compared to other children of that age.
3 Key Points About Percentiles
- It does not matter what percentile your baby is born at. A 5th percentile does not indicate underweight, just like the 90th percentile does not indicate overweight and the 50th percentile is not an ideal percentile. In fact, there is no ideal percentile.
- Children are expected to grow as per their own percentiles. This means that if a child is born at the 5th percentile, ideally we want to see that they continue to grow at that percentile. It is not possible or healthy to expect them to gain enough weight to reach the 50th percentile.
- If you observe that your baby has fallen off the growth chart – e.g., if they were born at the 50th percentile (0 months) but have now fallen to the 5th percentile (7 months) – speak to your doctor immediately to evaluate the reasons. If you observe drastic drops or rises in percentiles, it should be brought to the notice of your doctor.
What Does This Percentile Mean for My Baby?
Now once you have found the percentile for each of the age-appropriate categories for your baby, how do you read or interpret it?
We will use an example to show you how! Let’s say your baby:
- is a girl
- is 1 year old, and
- weighs 9 kgs
This places her in the 50th percentile. This means in a population of babies who are growing optimally, your baby weighs more than 50% of girls her age.
Does This Percentile Indicate My Baby’s Health?
As mentioned earlier, being in a higher or lower percentile is not enough of an indicator of your child’s health or growth. The rate of growth is what’s important.
If your baby was at the 5th percentile at 0 months (at birth), they should continue to grow as per the curve. At 6 months, they should still be at the 5th percentile (and not lower).
- Low percentiles: A one-time low percentile may not be indicative of the complete health status. Even a 5th percentile baby may be as healthy as a 95th percentile baby.
- Oscillating percentiles: Babies may move up and down the percentiles once in a while; oscillating between 5% and 10% is normal.
Apart from nutrition, so many different factors play a role in how and how much your baby is growing, like genetics and environment. So, avoid treating the Growth Chart as the only parameter for your baby’s growth. It should be considered along with parameters like developmental milestones, enjoyment at mealtimes, energy levels, illnesses, or preexisting health conditions.
The bottom line: Your baby should be healthy, happy, curious, energetic, and have a progressive growth curve. Keep giving them opportunities for exploration and stimulation to keep them active and engaged. Your baby is unique and so are you as a parent. You have got this!