One constant with babies is well-child checks. As a mother of two under two, I visit the pediatrician every few months, with either my son or daughter.
The common thread to these appointments is checking my child’s growth via height, weight, and head circumference. When the measurements are complete, the doctor then plots my child’s growth rate vs the WHO (World Health Organization) standards. The result is my child’s growth rate percentile.
At my son’s 18-month appointment, his height measured 2’7” (7%), his weight was 22 lb 8 oz (24%), and his head circumference was 47cm (37%). In other words, he is a shorty.
I can’t say I’m surprised my son is short, given that Mom is only 5’2 1/2″ (that 1/2″ is very important) and Dad is 5’10”. Also the fact that my boy can still fit 12-month pants, should have clued me in.
As a parent, I have mixed feelings about child growth chart percentiles. Yes, in extreme cases, they could be used to alert the pediatrician and parents of a problem with the child’s growth, perhaps a medical disorder.
But for the most part, I think child growth chart percentiles result in unnecessary stress and worry for parents.
Every parent worries how their child is measuring up to others, and the growth chart magnifies or dispels those fears.
In reality, out of the three variables measured, weight is the only variable that a parent can influence one way or another. Genetics determines a child’s height and head circumference. (It’s not as if I can make my son grow taller or have a larger head.)
When my son was born, he was 8 pounds even, a large baby, by any standard. But in his first few weeks, he did not gain weight at an acceptable rate, and so I had to log all his feedings and return to the pediatrician until she was satisfied with his weight gain. The only way I could get my son to gain a satisfactory amount was to force-feed him anytime he was awake. As soon as my son woke up from a nap, the bottle went into his mouth. It was a pain, but eventually, he gained the necessary weight, and I no longer felt like a failure as a mother.
That is the gist of it, isn’t it? Mothers internalize every stress and worry. If their child does not measure up perfectly to others, then the mother oftentimes blames herself.
Society glorifies large babies, but small ones are stigmatized.
My 8-month old daughter wears 12-month clothes, and as a mother, I take pride in the fact that she is growing so well. When she was a few months old, she measured in the 80% for weight and 90% for height, and I bragged about her growth to whoever would listen.
But with my son, I’m not bragging. I want him to be normal, not too short and not too tall. In the back of my mind, I always worry that his growth is stunted.
The pediatrician assures me that my son is following his own growth curve, even as his percentage vs other boys his age, drops. Still, 7% is a hard pill to swallow for any mother.
But then I recall myself as a child. I was always small and on the lower end of the growth curve growing up (string bean skinny until I reached puberty). My boy is simply taking after his mama.
My daughter is following her own path as well. Her large size is an asset, because once she catches up to her big bro, he won’t be able to pick on her as much.
Then there are preemies, like my sister’s triplets. They didn’t even register on the growth chart until their 6-month appointment, where they measured 1%.
Don’t read too much into child growth chart percentiles. If your son is a shorty like mine, that is ok. If your daughter is the Mighty Hulk, that is fine too.
Attend the well-child visits, but take the growth chart percentiles with a grain of salt. Realize that your child’s growth rate is largely out of your hands. My son could hit a growth spurt any day now. But, if he’s always a shorty, I’ll love him the same.
Readers: What do you think about child growth charts? Does finding out that your child is smaller or bigger than normal worry you?