It’s one of the first things you’ll be asked about your new baby, immediately after ‘boy or girl?’, ‘name?’ and probably just before ‘what time was he/she born?’!  Yes, from day one, your baby’s weight is something that everyone is interested in, and that’s because it is a key indicator of how well your little one is growing and developing.  If you’re worried or confused about your baby’s weight or height gain, take a look at our ABC to your baby’s growth in his/her first few years…

The ABC to your baby’s growth

After sizing up each other’s bumps in pregnancy, it’s the earliest way we parents compare our children – by their weight and height! But, although your baby’s weight and height is likely to preoccupy you from day one, there’s not much you can (or should) do to alter the general course of your child’s growth. Your child is genetically programmed (see below) to grow to a certain height and size and will follow that pattern despite your best efforts to squeeze one more feed or biscuit in!

Obviously there are other factors involved such as ethnicity and nutrition but genetics are the predominant influence on the way in which your child grows into adulthood. But knowing about general growth patterns for children, when and why growth spurts occur, the reasons your health visitor charts your baby’s growth and warning signs to look out for, will help you keep a ‘well-informed’ eye on your child’s physical development.

A is for Averages

Your baby will be compared against average weights and heights from the moment she is born because this gives the health professionals – her GP and health visitor – benchmarks against which they can judge her development. That said, we all know and accept that every baby is an individual and your child’s growth will follow a similarly individual pattern.

Did you know? Children grow fastest during spring and summer, probably because they’re getting more fresh air and exercise.

B is for Birth weight

Your baby’s weight at birth may seem significant at the time but is not always a good indicator of how she’ll grow in future months and years. Some babies are born unnaturally overweight, for example, if their mother had gestational diabetes, which means their weight gain tails off once their own body systems settle down again. And premature babies, although they can take a long time to catch up, will not necessarily remain smaller than other children of the same age in future.

Did you know? Your baby’s growth is fastest (inside or outside the womb) when you’re around four months pregnant.

C is for Centile Chart

Your baby’s weight, height and head circumference will be plotted in your baby’s Personal Child Health Record, the record book held by you and filled in by any health professionals who see your baby at regular pre-determined check-ups during her first few years. The centile charts work on averages so being on the “50th centile” for weight or height means your baby is bang on average for her age. Similarly, being on the “91st centile” for height indicates that your baby is tall for her age.

Did you know? On average, babies double their birth weight by six months old and triple it by the first birthday.

D is for Diet

A very important influence on your child’s growth, he or she will need a greater amount of calories as they develop especially during growth spurts and when learning to walk. Your toddler will also require more snacks than an adult will as they can’t eat large meals but try to offer healthy snacks such as fruit, milk, cheese, yoghurt or wholemeal bread and butter. As your child grows, it’s important that they get the right balance of food intake and exercise so that they avoid becoming overweight (see P is for Problems, below).

Did you know? Obesity and type II diabetes – which can be triggered by obesity – are on the increase among children world-wide.

G is for Genetics

How tall are you and your partner? This will be one of the most important influences on your baby’s height and weight in later life. Genetics determine his or her height but also, to a certain extent, metabolism and shape, although what we eat is still of great importance in maintaining our health and a good physique.

‘However, it’s important to remember that over-nutrition or not feeding your child properly can still make them inappropriately over or underweight,’ says Mr Fry from the Child Growth Foundation (CGF).

Did you know? Around 95% of all children grow normally, without any cause for concern.

H is for Height Chart

New national guidelines for GPs and health visitors mean that children’s height will no longer be routinely measured between 18 months old and school entry age (around five). So recording your child’s height (see 3 steps to measuring your child’s height, below) against the wall or on a purpose-built height chart is now more important than ever before. The CGF recommends measuring your child every six months from around 18 months old and seeking advice if your child veers away from his normal centile line on the chart over three readings ie for a period of 18 months.

‘We want every parent to take their notches against the wall seriously so they can bring anything abnormal to the attention of their GP,’ says Mr Fry.

Did you know? The average height for men and women in Holland is 3cms taller than in the UK.

P is for Problems

Your health visitor isn’t concerned about the odd few weeks where your baby doesn’t gain much or perhaps even loses a little weight, as having something like a virus can hold back weight gain. She’s looking for a fairly steady line upwards on the centile chart, with your baby following her particular centile line, not moving between different centiles, up and down a lot or being too far apart from her corresponding position on the length centile chart. If the health visitor identifies a potential concern, she may ask you to see the GP who can refer you on to a specialist for further investigation if necessary.

Occasionally, lack of growth and weight gain or excessive gains can signal there’s something’s seriously wrong, but more often than not, it will be caused by something that is easily dealt with, for example, dietary factors. Obesity is a major medical concern today, with a huge increase in the number of children who are overweight and this can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes.

However, you should never try to put your toddler on a diet or give diet food to babies as they have very different nutritional requirements to adults. Other (more rare) problems can include growth hormone deficiency or endocrine problems so, if you’re worried, ask your health visitor for advice.

Did you know? According to experts, there are around 4,000 children in the UK who’d benefit from growth hormone therapy but aren’t receiving it.

S is for Spurts

All babies and toddlers have growth spurts when they’ll need to eat more, may want longer naps during the day and suddenly seem to shoot up in height and weight. No one knows exactly why they occur but they’re believed to be linked to important developmental changes. The most significant growth spurts actually occur at six-seven years old and, again, at puberty which happens earlier in girls than boys.

Did you know? Babies require two and a half to three times more calories than adults, for their body weight. 4 steps to measuring height

  • Stand your child barefoot against a plain wall without skirting board or door.
  • Make sure their shoulder blades and bottom are touching the wall and they are looking straight ahead.
  • Rest a cereal packet vertically on the head, make a mark with a pencil where the packet rests.
  • Measure the distance with a tape measure and plot the result on the appropriate height chart in your child’s Personal Child Health Record.