Understanding Baby Growth Chart - Are Boys & Girls Really Different?
The birth of a baby is a source of great joy to the parents and family but then come the worries that are quite natural but not really necessary. Most new mothers go through a phase of anxiety and uncertainty regarding their baby’s growth pattern.
The questions are very similar for every parent.
Is my baby growing normally?
Is she eating enough?
Are all development parameters normal?
The anxiety may be alleviated once the actual facts are interpreted correctly.
A growth chart is a handy tool to ascertain whether your little one is growing within the correct parameters. Growth charts for boys and girls have significant differences. Boys are a little heavier and taller than girls on an average. Some differences may also be noticed in different socio-economic groups.
Most Paediatricians agree that more affluent families with good maternal health and better access to nutrition and medical care may be a little better than the WHO prescribed charts.
What parameters are measured by a Growth Chart?
Every baby is unique and has a different pace of growth. She reaches growth milestones at her own time. But, it has been noted that most healthy infants follow a similar pattern of development. This signifies that the percentile growth curve for each child is different but the curve is similar in healthy babies.
Three basic statistics are recorded by your pediatrician at regular intervals. The height of the baby, the weight of the baby and the head circumference of the baby are the designated parameters that reflect your baby’s growth and development. If all is in a pattern, it shows that your baby is feeding, digesting and assimilating nutrients well and is healthy.
The chart maintained by your doctor will also show your baby’s average growth as a percentile in comparison to other babies who fall in her age group. The graph that is created with your baby’s data will determine which percentile your baby falls in vis-à-vis height and weight.
Percentiles for height and weight may be different for each baby. For instance, if your baby is in the 40th percentile for weight, it means that on average 40% of children of the same sex and age weigh the same. If your baby is in the 60th percentile for height it signifies that on average 60% of the babies of similar age and gender fall in that category. The pediatrician will follow the particular percentile growth for both height and weight and check whether your baby is on the right track.
My baby’s growth curve does not follow the norm - Is it a matter of concern?
Temporary blips on your little one’s growth curve are normal. Small ups and downs will happen when there is a growth spurt or an illness. If there is a consistent problem with the growth and development of your baby the doctor will apprise you and help you take steps to correct the growth pattern.
- If you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby there might be an issue with latching,( holding the nipple in the mouth to suck strongly) and the doctor might help you identify the issue and guide you to ensure proper latching.
- The weaning baby might have issues in digestion and may need corrective measures to improve gut health, this will help your little one to catch up soon as she or he starts assimilating nutrients required for optimal growth.
- The doctor might ask you to check the stool of the baby or check for allergies to understand the basic problem that is hindering the baby’s growth. Once the problem is identified, it can be addressed properly.
- In case there is a big gap in the percentile rankings of growth, the doctor may advise ways and means to increase the weight and height of the baby, prescribe some tests to mark other underlying health issues or give medicines accordingly.
- There are many instances that a doctor might find an imbalance in the ratio of the height and weight percentile, it is then advised to follow his prescription to get the weight in a healthy ratio to the height percentile. Do note that there is a growing trend in the affluent society that has seen a rise in the number of obese babies. The doctor might ask you to restrict some foods or conduct a few tests to check the reason for obesity.
- Premature babies, twins or triplets may be on a very low percentile curve and may need special attention from the parent in terms of getting them into a higher percentile. It is important not to self-medicate or start foods that may not be suited to the baby’s digestive system and age.
(Refer to this Indian Food Chart for Your Baby)
- In some cases, the doctor might ask you to use the adjusted age as a marker to check for a growth in these cases where the baby’s birth weight and height were low.
It is important that you as a parent understand that these growth charts are indicative only and are not the last word in understanding the health of your baby. They are basic markers that you can use to track an infant’s growth pattern, not a substitute for a visit to the pediatrician.
What does the Head Circumference Percentile mean?
Mothers are often obsessed by their baby’s weight and height and tend not to place importance on the very important head circumference ratios. There remains a percentile that the head circumference should adhere to that determines the healthy growth of your baby. The head circumference is generally measured with a measuring tape extended from the center of the forehead to the rear of the head in a circular route.
The average head circumference of a normal baby is about 35 cm and grows at an average of 1 cm per month in the first year, with most of the growth being very rapid in the first 8 months and then by the end of the first year the brain is almost 75 percent the size of an adult brain. It increases by about 3.5 cms in the second year and reaches nearly 80%of adult brain size in the third year, and 90% by the 7th year.
The head circumference normality also ensures that there are no abnormalities in the rapidly growing infant brain. There are diseases like hydro encephalopathy that may cause swelling of the brain and a normal head circumference may be one of the tools to ascertain normal brain growth. It is important to understand that these are not tools to try and diagnose any underlying disease but a general overview that we can use to measure a child’s growth pattern.
The WHO has released a series of charts which can be used as a marker, but they are to be used with advice from your pediatrician who will show you how to use the charts as a tool and not get carried away if you see a small anomaly.