Getting a Head of the Curve
Plotting height and weight measurements on the growth chart helps your doctor determine whether your baby is growing normally and getting enough nutrition. Measuring head circumference shows the rate of head growth, which can be an indicator of brain development.
"If the baby's head isn't growing fast enough, then you worry that there was some kind of injury to the brain during birth, or the baby was born with some abnormality," Cox says. A small head could also be a sign that the bones of the skull have closed too early, leaving less room for the brain to grow.
When the head circumference is tracking larger than average, it could be due to fluid on the brain (hydrocephalus). Or, it could just mean that your baby has a large head. "Often, we'll measure the parents' head, because kids with large heads often have parents with large heads," Cox says.
More important than the size of a baby's head is how fast it’s growing. If the baby's head is getting larger than normal, the doctor might do an ultrasound to find out the cause of growth.
Plotting Preemie Growth
A premature baby isn't going to follow the same growth curve as a baby who was born full-term. Pediatricians will track a premature baby differently, or by using a special premature growth chart.
Preemies might start small, but eventually they catch up with their peers. "The first parameter that catches up is the head, and then the weight and height fall in after that, Brown says."
Baby Growth Problems: What Should Parents Do?
The typical newborn growth rate is about 1 1/2 pounds and 1 to 1 1/2 inches a month. Every baby grows at a slightly different pace, but babies who lag far behind or who are at the highest end on the growth chart curve will need close follow-up with a pediatrician.
Your pediatrician will evaluate a low-weight baby by asking about the baby's eating habits and general health. "You look at both what comes into the baby, and what comes out of the baby," Cox says.
Your pediatrician might ask you:
- If you're breastfeeding, how much milk are you producing?
- How often are you feeding your baby?
- If you’re breastfeeding, is your baby latching on correctly?
- Does your baby seem satisfied after each feeding?
- Has your baby been sick with diarrhea or a fever?
The doctor will check for any medical conditions that might be preventing your baby from eating enough. If your baby isn't growing because you're not producing enough milk, the pediatrician might recommend ways to increase your milk production, or have you supplement with formula.
Babies who are more than six months old can be started on solid foods. Brown recommends calorie-rich foods like eggs and whole-milk yogurt to improve weight gain.
It's rare for a breastfed baby to gain too much weight. Formula-fed babies who are putting on weight too quickly might need to have some adjustments made to their feeding schedule.