What are growth charts?
They're tools your pediatrician uses to keep track of your child's physical growth. At each checkup, the doctor will measure her length (or height if she's old enough to stand still), weight, and head circumference and then plot those numbers on a chart o
f national averages for children of the same age and sex. In the end, he will tell you what percentile your child is in. For instance, if your doctor tells you your 18-month-old is in the 75th percentile for weight, that means 75 percent of the 18-month-o
lds in the United States are lighter and 25 percent are heavier.
Parents sometimes worry needlessly about these percentages. Remember that your child is an individual and will develop at her own pace. These measurements are only a general guide to help you and your doctor assess your child's developmental progress. The
most important thing to watch for is consistency - is your toddler growing steadily?
Can I track my child's growth at home?
Yes, you can, with growth percentile calculators available in different baby books and online, but it may not be as accurate as when the doctor does it.
First weigh your child. If she's too small to stand on the scale herself, try this
- Hold your toddler and get on the scale. Write down that number. Then put your baby down and get on the scale alone.
Subtract that number from the combined weight you wrote down and you'll end up with your child's weight.
- Next measure your child's length. Lay her down and stretch a measuring tape from her head to her toes. It's easier if you have someone to help.
You can also measure her head circumference. Wrap the measuring tape around her head just above her eyebrows and ears, and around the back where her head slopes up prominently from her neck. The goal is to measure her head at the spot where it has the lar
Once you have these measurements, put them in the growth percentile calculator to find out roughly how your toddler compares to her peers.
How does the doctor take my child's measurements?
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Carefully and, ideally, more than once during each doctor visit because it's important the measurements be both reliable and accurate. Being off by as little as a fraction of an inch or pound can make a large difference in where your child falls on the ch
arts. Your pediatrician, and you, should note any conditions (such as excess squirming) that could interfere with measuring.
Your doctor will measure for three factors:
Weight After you undress your child completely - that's right, no diaper - the doctor or nurse will place her on a scale (either a traditional beam scale or an electronic model) to weigh her. Both types should be set to zero before the she's laid down. On
ce your child can stand still on her own, she can use an upright scale (and underpants are fine).
Length / height Until your child can stand still on her own, she'll be measured lying down. Some doctors will use a special device with a headboard and movable footboard to make sure they get accurate results.
After her second birthday, your child's height can be measured while she's standing up (if she cooperates), with her heels close together, legs straight, arms at her sides, and shoulders relaxed. Length / height is read to the nearest eighth of an inch (0
.1 cm). Your doctor should note when height, rather than length, becomes the primary measurement, as your child can be up to an inch longer when she's lying down than when she's standing up.
Head circumference Your child's doctor will measure her head by placing a flexible measuring tape just above her eyebrows and ears, and around the back of her head where it slopes up prominently from her neck. The goal is to measure the head at the spot w
here it has the largest circumference. The measurement is read to the nearest eighth of an inch (0.3 cm).