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Beginning with a baby’s first physician’s visit after birth, a child’s doctor records specific information about the child’s physical growth and development. The doctor records this information on a pediatric growth chart, which at first glance looks like a series of numbers, dots, lines, and percentages, but is actually a tool a doctor uses to monitor a child’s early development. Nearly all pediatricians use the same pediatric growth chart as supplied by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The American Academy of Pediatrics.
Three pieces of essential information are recorded on a pediatric growth chart. Height, weight, and head circumference are all measured at each scheduled well-child visit and recorded on the chart. After the child grows beyond 18 months of age, many doctors are only concerned with height and weight.
A pediatric growth chart is a basic grid on which growth information is plotted and then compared to sample statistics. These samples determine the percentile group a child falls into and whether his or her height, weight, and head circumference are maintaining a consistent growth pattern. If a child’s measurements are in a high percentile group, say 90% or above, he or she is bigger than most kids of the same age, and conversely, if he or she is in a low percentile group, the child is smaller than average.
In terms of growth and development, the pediatric growth chart is a tool used to monitor growth. Rather than worrying about which percentile a child falls under, it is more important to see that their percentiles are fairly even across the board. A doctor may become concerned if an infant’s weight suddenly plots at a lower percentile than was previously plotted. Similarly, long-term changes in weight that are tracked on the growth chart may alert a doctor to a potential issue before any symptoms are present.
Many parents worry about the dots and curved lines they see on their child’s pediatric growth chart. They worry that if their child is plotting in the highest percentile, he or she might become overweight, or that if their child is plotting in the bottom 10%, he or she might be unhealthy. Since people come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, it’s more important to focus on consistent growth and development. A pediatric growth chart is simply a tool to track growth, and while it can alert a doctor to a potential issue, it is not a measure of a child’s future appearance, intelligence, or overall health status.
Your child’s doctor will likely discuss your child’s pediatric growth chart at each visit, but expect the discussion to be brief. The pediatrician should be more concerned with eating habits, sleeping habits, brain development, and bodily functions. Rest assured that if the numbers on your child’s pediatric growth chart should go awry, indicating any potential problems, your child’s doctor will address it.
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