Plotting your baby’s growth on a growth chart lets you ‘see’ how well they are growing over time – and shows you how they are developing.
What are baby growth charts?
Baby growth charts are a quick and easy way for both you and your doctor or nurse to track your child’s growth – providing a guide to how your baby’s health and development is progressing.
Your baby should be measured and weighed regularly so their growth can be assessed over an extended period of time. Assessing how well your baby is growing can provide valuable information on their general health and well-being; healthcare professionals use growth charts to help interpret three particular measurements:
- Their weight
- Their height (or length)
- Their head circumference
They then compare these measurements to the charts. These measurements will be recorded as dots on your baby’s growth charts (which can be found in their personal health record book) and can then be joined together to show your baby’s growth line.
There are a number of different types of charts, but all Australian baby record books should now be using the World Health Organisation (WHO) growth charts as the standard reference for all children under 2 years of age.
In 2006, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released their growth charts for tracking the growth and development of young children. These were based on the measurements of healthy, breastfed babies from six different countries. They used their findings to create growth curves, which they viewed as the optimal growth of young children. Please note: Some states and healthcare providers may use the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Growth Charts instead.
Once your child is over 2 years of age the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) charts are usually recommended.
These reference growth charts (WHO or CDC) represent the population as a whole. They have been created using measurements from lots of different healthy children who have been followed up, measured and weighed at different ages.
Boys and girls grow and develop at different rates so there are separate growth charts (height, weight and head circumference) for each gender.
Understanding your baby’s growth chart
Growth charts can look a bit confusing at first – with lots of different lines all over the page – but it is important to understand what they mean.
The charts are marked into different ‘percentiles’ or ‘centiles’. A percentile line indicates the proportion of children in the population that are below that measurement for that particular age. For example, 45% of children are shorter than the 45 percentile on the height chart and a baby whose weight falls on the 75 percentile will be heavier than 75% of other babies (but lighter than 25%) – but both are within the typical range.
While growth charts are a simple way to measure your child’s growth, they are designed for babies and young children who receive good nutrition and who have not had to deal with a lengthy illness. It’s important to remember that your child’s growth and development will be influenced by many things, including:
- Health and sickness
Growth charts are only guides
Growth charts act as a quick and easy guide to your child’s development – they are not diagnostic tools but help your doctor or nurse to form an overall impression of your baby’s health.
Each child is unique and their growth and development will be influenced by many things including their genetics, nutrition, health and wellness. Babies usually grow in ‘bursts’ so their growth lines may not be perfectly smooth.
These growth spurts happen often in the first year. Remember, by their first birthday a newborn baby (on average) will more than triple their birth weight. For toddlers (over 12 months), growth slows down. On average, a toddler will put on two to three kilos each year after their first birthday. They usually won’t go through another significant growth spurt until they hit puberty.
Plotting your baby’s growth regularly and seeing if it follows a consistent growth curve is generally more important than which percentiles they fall in. Healthy growth is when the increase in a baby’s weight and height are mostly in proportion to each other.
Remember, growth charts are only intended as a guide and babies grow at different rates with each baby following their own growth line – some will be above average (indicated by the 50 percentile line) and some below – what’s important is that they are growing at their own consistent rate.
More information on your baby’s growth can be found in the notes section of your child’s personal health record. If you are concerned about your child’s growth, seek advice from a healthcare professional.