About child growth
Children’s physical growth is a sign of their overall health and development.
Children’s growth usually follows a typical pattern over time, but this pattern is influenced by their own genes and environments.
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 (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 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, 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 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. 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 normal range for weight.
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 they’re growing in a healthy way.