“While the chart gives us an idea of what our child’s peers are up to in terms of growth, it isn’t a prescriptive for ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’.”
I have two boys. One is skinny and lanky with a body like Gumby. The other is stocky and strong, like a staffy dog.
They are aged seven and five.
Both boys eat the same food and do the same amount of exercise. And yet, according to an online growth chart calculator, the Gumby is underweight and the staffy is on the cusp of being overweight for his age and height.
Now according to my GP they are healthy little guys. They just have very different body types. But you know what’s not healthy? The anxiety this damn calculator gave me!
I’ve since stopped looking at it. But here are a few things to keep in mind if you also get growth chart jitters.
Want to join the family? Sign up to our Kidspot Newsletter for more stories like this.
It all starts the second they’re born. Image: iStock.
Why the chart?
A growth chart is intended to keep a record of how your baby or child is developing. YOUR child, not all the others who they share the graph with.
Pediatricians do this in order to check that our kids are growing at a rate that’s in accordance with THEM. So if your bub has a sudden drop in weight after a period of steady growth, for instance, then it might signal a health problem.
While the chart gives us an idea of what our child’s peers are up to in terms of growth, it isn’t prescriptive for ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’.
A baby who sits in the 50th percentile for weight will still have 50 percent of peers who are lighter and 50 percent who are heavier than her. Some will also be shorter or taller.
Like adults (and take a moment now to think about those in your family and friendship circle), babies, toddlers and kids come in ALL different shapes and sizes.
Growth chart anxiety is real
Now, even though we know growth charts are really just growth trend checkers, we can’t help but think INTO them.
In the same way that we internally ask, ‘what are they saying?’ when someone exclaims what a “big boy” your baby is, or that your toddler is “small for her age”, we wonder what it really means.
As such, we visit our local early childhood centre, “just to weigh the baby” a little more than is suggested. Or we find ourselves punching measurements into some online growth calculator when we should be sleeping.
We do this to seek reassurance (“yep, still ‘normal’”), or to justify our anxiety (“oh no, she’s still small. Something IS wrong. I need to get her to the doctor.”) .
Or we do it for another reason altogether, which I think is the main one.
Want more stories like this? This mum says our obsession with infant growth charts may be fuelling childhood obesity, and here are 10 signs your breastfed baby is gaining weight.
Is it a competition? Image: iStock.
A parenting report card
I’m starting to think we subconsciously think of growth charts as some kind of measure of our mumming (or dadding).
If our baby scores in the ‘normal’ range, then we are normal parents and whatever milk or solid food we are giving them is just fine. Tick for us! Yay! Pass.
But if the numbers are outside of this (AKA just not within the 50th percentile), then we might worry a little. We think into the data, analyse it and even try to alter it with supplementary feeding.
It also doesn’t help that everyone seems to have an opinion on how we feed our babies. We feel watched. Judged. Critiqued. All. The. Time. And the growth chart is our report card.
Breast is best, we are told! Unless you have low milk supply and are STARVING your baby, of course. Which you think you are because she’s in the bottom 15 percentile for weight. Never mind that she has been for months and that’s just HER! Your GP has been tracking her development since birth and she isn’t concerned.
Likewise, give your baby formula and if he fattens up in a good way, then IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT that he’s in the heavier percentile! But again, your pediatrician isn’t worried. He’s a healthy baby.
But rationality has gone out the window. Instead all that anxiety, guilt, defensiveness and sensitivity simmers in a pot seasoned with sleep deprivation.
Does it really matter? Image: iStock.
Hand the worry over
If this resonates with you, then know you are not alone. Even the most non-neurotic parents suffer from growth chart anxiety. But I highly recommend you do what I did to rid myself of it.
I handed it over to my GP.
Sometimes we need a doctor to tell us our kids are perfectly ‘them’, and in a nice way, that we need to get a grip. We are doing a stellar job.
Growth charts are just that. Charts. They are not a reflection of us as parents.