How to interpret your child’s growth chart

Charting your child’s height, weight, and head circumference can determine whether they are growing at the appropriate rate for their age.

How to interpret your child’s growth chart
 Consult your physician if you have any queries about your child’s growth or growth charts.

Large, petite, tall, and short, children come in various healthy shapes and sizes. Height and weight are influenced by genetics, gender, nutrition, physical activity, health conditions, environment, and hormones. And many of these factors can vary substantially between families.

To ensure your child is on track with their growth and development, their doctor will likely use a growth chart.

The purpose of growth charts is to monitor a child’s physical growth and development. They aid paediatricians in ensuring that children gain centimetres, kilograms, and head circumference (a sign of good brain development) at a rate consistent with their age.

Growth charts are a typical component of paediatric exams. They illustrate how children are growing compared to others of the same age and gender. In addition, they demonstrate the growth pattern of children’s height and weight through time and their proportional growth.

Are all children measuring on the same growth chart?

No. Girls and boys are measured using different growth charts due to their distinct growth patterns and speeds. Additionally, one chart set is utilised for infants from birth to 36 months, while another set is used for children and adolescents ages two to 20. In some cases, customised growth charts might be used for children with Down syndrome or who were born prematurely.

Why does my child’s head circumference matter?

The head circumference of infants can provide information regarding brain development. If your baby’s head is significantly larger or smaller than most other children, or if it stops developing or develops too quickly, this may indicate a problem.

For instance, an abnormally big head may indicate hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid within the brain. A smaller-than-average head could suggest that the brain is not developing normally or has ceased growing.

How do percentiles work?

Percentiles are metrics that indicate a child’s position relative to other children. On the growth charts, the percentiles are represented by curved lines.

When physicians plot a child’s weight and height on a chart, they determine which percentile line the measurements fall on:

  • The greater the percentile figure, the taller or heavier a child is relative to other children of the same age and gender, regardless of height or weight.
  • The lower the percentile number, the smaller the child is. For example, if the weight of a four-year-old boy is in the 10th percentile, it indicates that 10% of boys his age weigh less than he does and 90% weigh more.

Good to know: Being in a high or low percentile does not necessarily indicate a child’s health or the presence of a growth or weight issue. It merely indicates whether a child is bigger or smaller than average, which does not typically indicate a concern.

Suppose the child’s parents and siblings are likewise larger or smaller than usual and there are other indicators that the child is healthy and developing normally. In that case, doctors are likely to conclude that there is no need for concern.

What is my child’s ideal percentile?

There is no single optimal quantity. However, ideally, each child will follow the same growth pattern over time, gaining height and weight at the same rate and maintaining a proportional relationship between the two.

What might indicate a problem?

Distinct growth chart patterns may indicate a health problem, including:

  • When a child’s weight or height percentile deviates from an established trend: For instance, if a child’s height and weight were both on the 60th percentile line until age five, but then the height decreases to the 30th percentile at age 6, this could indicate a growth problem because the child is not following their typical growth pattern. However, shifting percentiles do not always indicate a problem. Many children may exhibit fluctuations in growth percentiles at certain stages of development when it is typical for growth rates to differ substantially amongst children. This is especially prevalent during childhood and adolescence.
  • When children do not grow taller at the same rate as they gain weight: For instance, if a boy’s height is in the 40th percentile and his weight is in the 85th percentile, he is taller than 40% of children his age but heavier than 85%. That could pose a concern. Alternatively, if he is in the 85th percentile for both height and weight and maintains this pattern over time, he is likely a healthy child who is simply larger than typical.