A common concern of parents is whether their child is growing at the proper rate. A means of determining this is by using infant and child growth charts utilized by pediatricians and derived by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The growth of your child is monitored in the form of percentile curves which compare it with the growth of other U.S. children at the same age. These charts and percentile curves are created from information collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Infant growth charts are used to measure a child from birth until adolescence. If you want to monitor child development, one of these charts is a great place to start. There are different types of charts available that measure different forms of growth. Hence, it is important to find the correct one for your child. Factors that influence the selection are given below.
- Gender of Child: As males and females grow at different rates, there are different charts measuring a variety of aspects based on the child's gender. Thus, the first step is to find charts that cater to your child's particular gender (that is, boy or girl).
- Age of Child: Children grow the fastest during the first 36 months. This is why there is a different chart for a baby from birth to 36 months and then another chart for children 2 to 20 years of age. In some cases, there may be a special chart for preschoolers age 2 to 5 years. Be sure to choose the most age-appropriate version for your child.
- Percentile: Percentiles are used to measure the growth of a child by giving her a rank that shows her position as a percentage that is more than or equal to the studied population in the United States. In other words it shows your child's position in the form of a percentage compared with other children in the United States.
Example: If a boy is 2 years old and is in the 75th percentile on the length-for-age growth chart, it means that your child's height is more than or equal to 75 percent of the studied population of 2-year-old boys. There are a variety of charts that measure certain percentiles. Be sure to pick one that is closest in showing your child's percentile.
- Length-for-Age: To determine your child's growth in height based on her age, use a length-for-age chart.
- Weight-for-Age: To calculate your child's growth in terms of her weight at a certain age, use a weight-for-age chart.
- Weight-for-Stature: Another form of measuring growth at a certain age is by comparing the weight of your child based on her height. For this a weight-for-length chart is ideal. If your child is a preschooler between the age of 2 to 5 years, you can use a special weight-for-stature chart that caters to this specific age group.
- Head Circumference-for-Age: The growth of a child's brain is determined by the size of her skull. Use a head circumference-for-age chart to determine if your child's brain is growing adequately at her age.
- Body Mass Index-for-Age: Use a Body Mass Index (BMI) chart to determine how much body fat your child has, thereby establishing if she is overweight. Body Mass Index (BMI) is derived from the weight and height measurements of the reference population at a certain age. Note that this measurement for stature is used for children 2 years and older.
- Specialized Population: Some infants have very low birth weights (VLBH), while there are others whose growth are affected due to certain health conditions. For such children, there are specialized charts used to measure their growth accordingly.
- Breast-Fed versus Formula-Fed: The child development and growth charts from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are derived from a population that includes both breast- and formula-fed babies; however, keep in mind that exclusively breast-fed babies tend to gain weight quickly in the first 2 to 3 months and then weigh less from 6 to 12 months of age as compared to formula-fed babies. Currently, the World Health Organization is working on creating growth charts for breast-fed-only babies, although there are preliminary charts available from data collected by the World Health Organization's Working Group published in "An evaluation of infant growth: a summary of analyses performed in preparation for the WHO Expert Committee on 'Physical Status: the use and interpretation of anthropometry'" (Doc WHO/NUT/94.8. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1994). These charts are based on 226 infants breast-fed for at least 12 months of age and with introduction to solid foods at the age of 4 months. Note that such charts are only research findings and are not to be considered in making medical decisions.
If you're interested in child growth and development, getting a growth chart is a great idea. With the appropriate chart available at your pediatrician's office or from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can accurately monitor your child's growth from birth until the age of 20 years.