Children all develop at different rates. Child growth charts give you a guide to how well your baby is growing. But the most important thing is that your baby is healthy, responsive and happy, not how she compares with other babies on a growth chart.
About child growth
Children’s growth is a sign of their overall health and development.
All babies and children grow at different rates, and there’s a big range when it comes to ‘normal’. Your child’s growth is unique for him, and usually follows a pattern that’s right for him.
At home with your baby, you’ll know whether she’s growing. You’ll notice her getting too big for her clothes, bassinet, baby bath or other things that seemed enormous when she was just a newborn.
What are growth charts (percentile charts)?
Health professionals use growth charts to track your child’s growth and development in the early years. Growth charts help to show whether your child is growing in a healthy way.
Growth charts are graphs that show changes in your child’s length or height, weight and head circumference over time. Your health professional – for example, your child and family health nurse – measures these things regularly and marks the measurements on the graph.
There are different growth charts for boys and girls, for younger children and older children, and for certain conditions like Down syndrome.
Your child’s personal child health record probably has a growth chart inside it. Your local child health clinic or GP will also keep growth charts for your child.
Understanding child growth charts
Growth charts have lots of lines on them.
These lines show the range of typical child growth patterns at different ages. When your nurse puts your child’s individual measurements on a growth chart, you can see how your child’s growth compares to what’s typical for children of his age.
Children track along growth curves that are individual to them.
Most children’s lengths, weights and heads are somewhere between the top and bottom curves on the charts. Half of all children grow at a rate above the middle of the typical range, and half grow at a rate below this range.
Sometimes children’s individual growth curves cross over curves on the chart. If this happens with your child, your health care professional will closely monitor your child’s growth over the next few appointments. Your child’s growth might get back on track on its own, or your health professional might suggest some things you can do to help.
You might see the word ‘percentile’ used. Percentiles divide up the range of typical growth on growth charts. If a baby is on the 5th percentile for weight, it means that he weighs less than 95% of other babies of the same age. A baby on the 90th weight percentile weighs more than 90% of other babies. But both babies are within the typical range.
How child growth is measured
Length is measured when your baby is lying down. For children over two years, height is measured when they’re standing up.
For children under two years, weight is measured without clothing on a special infant weighing scale. After two years, weight is measured in ‘light’ clothing on a regular set of scales.
Head circumference is usually measured by putting a tape measure around your baby’s head. Babies’ heads grow rapidly in the first year, which makes it easy to check that that they’re growing in a healthy way.
More information about child growth charts
All Australian states and territories use World Health Organization (WHO) growth charts to measure the growth of children aged 0-2 years. These charts are described as ’optimal’ rather than ’average’ growth and are based on the growth of healthy, exclusively breastfed babies measured over time in six countries.
Most states use charts from the US Centers for Disease Control to measure growth in children and adolescents aged 2-18 years.