What are growth charts and how to read them?
One of the main ways your pediatrician will follow your child’s normal development and growth in their first years of life is by using the world health organisations's growth charts. Growth charts are based on large amounts of data taken from thousands of healthy children, and is composed of head circumference, height and weight of your child over time. Each measurement is compared to the normal charts, and you and your physician can see where your child stands compared to the rest of the population. The charts are standardized according to the child’s age and sex.
Once your child has a few measurements, or a curve, it will be possible to see trends over time and even predict your child’s height and weight in the future.
How are the charts built?
In growth charts there are different curves representing the different percentiles - usually 5,10,25,50,75,90 and 95. Once your child has a measurement of weight, your child’s weight will appear somewhere on the chart. If the measurement is on the 50th percentile, that means that your child is exactly at the average weight of children of the same age and sex. If your child’s weight is on the 95th percentile, that means that 95% of children of the same age and sex weigh less than your child at the same age. The same goes for head circumference and height.
After more than one measurements have been taken, a new curve will appear - your child’s growth curve composed of all measurements up to that time. Using your child’s growth curve, you and your doctor can see if your child is growing as expected, or perhaps “jumped” a curve (for example, if your child started out at the 10th percentile, and is now at the 50th percentile).
Growth assessment is a critical way used by health care providers to assess your child’s general health in the first years of life. A sudden and significant change in a growth curve can be an early sign of a medical problem which needs to be looked into. With that in mind, different children grow in different and unique patterns, and a medical professional should always be advised regarding any abnormal result.