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Baby milestones and development: height and weight

Your baby’s growth

One of the signs of your baby’s good health is his growth. Your baby’s height and weight changes are important indicators for overall health.
That’s why when your baby’s young, he’s weighed quite often. Poor growth can sometimes be one of the signs your baby is ill, or that he isn’t feeding well. Poor nourishment has implications for future health. But a healthy weight gain is a good sign – a baby who is growing well is probably healthy.

Later, because babies’ and toddlers’ growth tends to slow down, frequent weighing isn’t necessary. However, weight and height are usually taken when you bring your child for his routine health checks at your local Baby Health clinic or doctor.

The average full term baby weighs 3500g (seven and a half pounds). Around 95 per cent of babies weigh between 2500g (five and a half pounds and 4250g (nine and a half pounds) – and many healthy babies weigh less, or more, than this without there being a problem.

Babies often lose weight in the first days after birth – around 10 per cent of the birthweight is considered okay. It’s the result of the perfectly normal loss of waste matter (meconium) from the bowels, and urine. You can expect your baby to have regained his birthweight by about day 10. Many healthy babies can take longer than this.

Babies gain weight irregularly. This is especially the case with breast-fed babies. Over time, the weight gain will probably average out to something like 150g-200g a week, usually slowing after the age of three months, and slowing again after six. Of course there are times that your baby may have a rapid growth spurt and put on more weight or grow more than usual.

Your newborn baby: growth issues

It’s often in the early weeks and months that there’s most concern about your baby’s weight. This is understandable. Poor growth can be a sign of poor feeding; babies who grow slowly, or not at all, may be ill. If your baby is not growing well:

  • Have your feeding method checked. Breastfed babies need to be well-positioned at the breast, to ensure they suckle effectively. This means you make more milk for them, and they take more in. A bottle fed baby may grow better if he’s offered more and smaller feeds.
  • You may be asked other questions about your baby’s behaviour and development. A very sleepy baby who doesn’t seem interested in feeding may need to be woken more, and encouraged to feed.
  • Consistent poor weight gain might mean your baby is referred for a specialist assessment, to check there’s no underlying illness or condition.

Accurate weighing is essential. The best scales are electronic, and should be regularly checked. If you can, have your baby weighed on the same scales each time.

Some babies do take a while to start gaining weight – in the majority of cases it’s not a serious issue. But it shouldn’t be ignored.

Your growing baby: growth issues

In babies over about three months old, the rate at which they grow often does slow down. It’s also common for babies to slow down at around five to six months, when they may start solids.

Your baby’s first foods are often lower in calories than breastmilk or formula milk, and a meal of stewed carrots may seem to fill your baby, but she won’t have taken as many calories as she would if she’d had a bottle or breastfeed.

So, if you’re concerned about your baby’s weight gain, it can be sensible to cut down on solid foods and increase the milk intake – by offering breastfeeds more often, or by giving more bottles.

Talk to your health professional and take advice from them about whether you need to do anything differently.

Your toddler: growth issues

Toddlers can develop food fads and fussiness – and as growth naturally slows down in the second year, weight can sometimes appear as if it’s poor. How do you know when to worry?

Ask your doctor to take accurate weight and height measurements, and compare them with previous figures. You may have these recorded in your baby’s personal health record book.

If the doctor thinks there’s an issue you’ll be asked:

  • about your toddler’s appetite. Is she eating well, with a good selection of different foods?
  • has she been ill recently? Growth can tend to slow before, during and after an illness.
  • what your family’s general size is, as growth patterns tend to run in families.

If there’s any concern, the doctor will want to make sure your child is measured again after a while, and she may refer your child to a paediatrician for a more detailed check.

Questions and answers

Q: I’ve been told my toddler should drink less milk so she can grow better. She has about three bottles a day.

A: Milk is a useful food and drink, but if toddlers drink too much they leave less room for other foods. Toddlers keen on milk often drink large volumes – easy to do with a bottle – and it can be better to cut down on the milk and to have more solids, especially high calorie ones like wholegrain bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Too much milk can mean your toddler misses out on other nutrients, too, like iron.

For more information regarding appropriate foods for your child visit our Feeding Your Baby section on our site.

For more information see Baby development or Baby Care.