Surveys have shown that many parents often misunderstand what a baby weight percentile is, along with most of the other baby growth percentiles, and how to correctly interpret it. In addition, a lot of parents feel that baby growth charts have a way of making them even more anxious about their child’s development, leading them to doubt their parenting skills and worry about their child’s health and growth. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to truly understand how baby growth charts work and why it’s part and parcel of evaluating a child’s overall health.
The use of growth charts such as the baby weight percentile plays an important role in evaluating and monitoring a child’s growth because of two things. First, it measures how well he or she is growing in comparison to others of the same age and gender. Second, it enables parents and doctors alike to look at the baby’s rate of growth. The baby weight percentile, in particular, allows pediatricians to assess and track a baby’s weight over time. How does it do that? To understand how this baby weight chart works, it’s important to first know how it came to be. Growth or percentile charts are based on gathered statistical data from surveyed babies who come from various areas and ethnicities. These babies and their weights are then divided into 100 equal groups to create the percentiles.
To use the baby weight percentile, pediatricians plot the child’s weight on the graph to find out on which percentile it lands on. Now, the percentile is not like the ones we know in school where we’re ranked based on achievements. This number is actually just a measurement of how a child compares to those babies who were surveyed. So, if a baby is in the 40th percentile, it only means that he weighs more than 40% of the babies in the survey and 60% of the same group of babies weigh more than him. This is where most of the confusion and misunderstanding set in. Parents, anxious over their child’s development, instantly think that they’re doing something wrong and wonder why their child is being graded so low. But unlike in school, this number does not mean that he’s better off than 40% of the babies in the survey and 60% are healthier than him. In fact, this comparison is not really the data that is important. People come in all shapes and sizes so it really wouldn’t do good to compare one baby’s size to another. What’s important is to look at all the data over time, evaluating the curve generated by the child’s growth pattern. Healthy children will have measurements that steadily increase at a rate that is predictable over a period of time. With the baby weight percentile, the pediatrician will be analyzing the pattern of weight gain to see if there are any deviations from the established pattern. Any deviations such as a rapid and extreme change in percentiles, may signal a possible health problem. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that there will be times when the baby will grow in leaps and bounds such as during the first year. There will also be times when weight gain slows down, particularly the period between 12 to 24 months. It is important for parents to know when these types of deviations are normal and when they are not.
What about highs and lows? What if the baby is above the 95th percentile or below the 5th percentile? Many parents actually go into a state of panic because their child measured too big or too small. But this kind of result isn’t necessarily a problem. Some babies are just naturally big or naturally small. What parents should do when faced with their child’s baby weight percentile is to look at what is normal for their own family. Is most of the family made up of large people? Did one or both of the parents have the same growth pattern when he or she was at the same age as the child? And most importantly, are the child’s other measurements within the same range of his or her weight? A baby with a 10th percentile for weight and a 75th percentile for height may be a cause for concern because he or she may not be getting enough nutrition.
While the baby weight percentile, along with all the other baby growth percentiles, is a tool used to evaluate a child’s growth, it is essential that parents understand that this is only one of the many tools used to monitor and assess a child’s overall health. As long as the child is growing at a consistent rate and following his established pattern, then the parents have nothing to worry about. Chances are, the baby is healthy and growing just fine.