Not all children’s bodies are created equal. Children are born small, large, long, and short. Growth in children can be variable as well. If your child is consistently in the 90th% or in the 3rd% percentile, it’s likely there is no problem. The problem comes when a parent may be unnecessarily alerted to their child’s weight being not “normal.”
Think about it, you are feeding your child the best you know how. You go to a medical professional for a visit and are told your child is bigger or smaller than they are supposed to be. Being the concerned parent, you go home and start focusing on food. You start controlling what they eat by trying to bulk them up or lean them out. What happens? In my experience, backfire big time, resulting in even more weight gain or weight loss!
Here’s an example from a parent I worked with a few years back for a child who was classified as “too small.” Her daughter was born about average size and after the first appointment stayed around the 3rd% for weight until her 9 month check up. The parents had just moved to the area and her daughter was seen by a new doctor who diagnosed her with “Failure to Thrive.” Can you imagine the fear in hearing those words? The parents, like any good parents would, panicked and went to the store and bought her Pediasure and started trying to force her to drink and eat more calories then she could handle. They force feed her, even when she refused (even to the point of crying). She was put on monthly weight checks and her weight continued to decline. Around this time I met mom while presenting at a Mommy group and she consulted me.
Another example, this time, from a parent whose child was classified as “too big.” Her daughter was of Hispanic decent and had a stocky build and a large bone structure. She plotted on the growth curve at the 97th% for weight so she was referred to me by the doctor for needing weight loss. Before I even reviewed the growth chart, I assessed the toddler with my own eyes. Despite the obese diagnosis she appeared to have an absolutely normal build for a toddler (you know the protruding belly that helps them keep their balance). I looked back at the growth chart and sure enough she had always been in the 95-97th% for both height AND weight and growing steady. The mom explained she had tried to restrict her daughters eating and her daughter would cry with hunger and began food seeking behaviors.
You can see, fear, caused these two parents to stop listening to their child’s ability to self-regulate their own appetite and grow predictably. I am a HUGE advocate for educating parents on how to interpret growth so you can work with your doctor to make an accurate assessment of your child’s growth.
How do we define normal growth? Is my child’s weight right for them?
Each curved line depicts a percentile (from 3rd%-97th%). No percentile is better than the other or defines “normal” weight or “abnormal” weight. It actually comes down to the consistency of the line. I only become concerned when the plotted dot either jumps up or down one or more lines for two consecutive visits. You will see in the first chart the plotted dots maintain on or near the same line versus the second chart where the plotted dots are jumping up the growth curves.
Education and understanding your child’s growth is so important. It allows you to understand how you children are growing and if and when there is a need for nutrition interventions. The two children whose parents I worked with in my example above both had a positive outcomes.
What is your experience with your child’s growth? Have you been concerned and what have you done about it? Feel free to comment below!