People come in all shapes and sizes and so do babies. And while that fact of life is something we all know, it is often hard for anyone, even parents, to not compare one baby's growth with another. One baby might be chubbier than another but that doesn't mean that he or she is healthier in comparison. In the same way, a smaller than average baby doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't growing as he should be. There are quite a lot of factors that can affect a baby's size and shape such as genetics, gender, and nutrition; thus, a visual examination of his size is not a reliable way of judging if his growth is normal or not. To properly assess if a baby's height and weight are "normal" and that his development is right on track, doctors use growth charts or percentile charts such as a baby weight percentile chart.
Growth charts are based on statistical data compiled from a group of babies of the same age and gender, living in an optimal environment. These babies are equally divided into 100 groups and plotted on a graph. A doctor, and even a parent, can use such a chart to not only see how the child compares with others of the same age and gender but, most importantly, to see if he or she is following the same growth pattern over time.
One of the baby growth charts used to track and evaluate growth is the Baby Weight Percentile Chart. To use the chart, a doctor will plot the baby's weight on it and look at which percentile it lands on. Baby growth percentiles are all interpreted the same way. The higher the measurement is on the chart, the bigger he is compared to others of the same age and gender. For example, a baby who places on the 50th percentile on the Baby Weight Percentile Chart weighs more than 50% of his peers and less than 50% of his peers. Being at the 10th percentile will mean that 90% of the babies of the same age and gender weigh more than him while 10% of the babies in the same group weigh less.
In using the baby weight percentile chart, or any baby growth chart for that matter, it is important to keep in mind that there is no ideal percentile to be at. A baby who measures high on the baby weight chart is not healthier than a baby who falls on a lower percentile. A baby on the 10th percentile can be just as healthy and normal as one on the 90th percentile. What is important to take note of is the growth pattern that the baby is following. Is he gaining weight at the same rate? If a child has consistently been on the 10th percentile, it doesn't mean that he hasn't been growing or is growing less than other babies. What it means is that he has been consistently growing at the same rate and that this percentile and pattern is normal for him, especially if his size is genetically inherited from his parents.
Why is the growth pattern important? Doctors keep track of a child's growth pattern in order to see if there are significant changes that might indicate health problems. Though changes in growth patterns in children do occur, they usually do so during certain points of development such as adolescence. If a child who has always been on the 50th percentile throughout his first two years suddenly drops to the 10th percentile, it may signal to the doctor that there's a health problem causing him to stop following his usual growth pattern. A huge difference in the baby weight percentile and the height percentile can also indicate a problem.
For parents, it's only natural to use tools like a baby weight percentile calculator to help keep an eye on the child's development and growth. However, it is important for any parent to keep in mind that growth charts are not diagnostic tools. They are only able to show a small piece of the overall picture of a child's health.