About child growth
Children’s physical growth is a sign of their overall health and development.
Growth patterns vary among children, but children’s growth usually follows a typical pattern over time. This pattern is influenced by children’s genes, so children’s growth often reflects growth patterns in their family. Other factors like environment affect growth too.
You’ll usually be able to see your child growing, as your child gets too big for clothes and equipment that probably seemed enormous not long before.
What are child growth charts?
Growth charts are graphs that show changes in children’s length or height, weight and head circumference over time.
Health professionals use growth charts to track children’s growth and development in the early years. For example, your child and family health nurse regularly measures your child’s length or height, weight and head circumference and marks these measurements on your child’s growth charts. This helps to show whether your child is growing in a healthy way over time.
There are growth charts for different sexes, 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 a lot of lines on them. These lines show the range of typical child growth at different ages.
Children’s growth generally follows close to one of these lines. It doesn’t have to follow a growth curve exactly.
Most children’s lengths or heights, 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 measurements start to follow a different growth curve from the one they started on. If this happens with your child, your health care professional will closely monitor your child’s growth over the next few appointments. Your health professional might also suggest things you can do to help.
You might see the word ‘percentile’ used. Percentiles divide up the range of typical growth on growth charts. A baby who is on the 5th percentile for weight 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 for weight.
How child growth is measured
Length is measured when your baby is lying down. For children over 2 years, height is measured when they’re standing up.
For children under 2 years, weight is measured without clothing on a special infant weighing scale. After 2 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 they’re growing in a healthy way.