See How They Grow

Reading the Chart, Rules for Good Measure

Print Out a Copy of the CDC's Growth Charts

How to Read the Childhood Growth Chart

The most important tool in understanding and tracking your child's growth is a simple piece of paper: The childhood growth chart. There are charts for height, weight and head circumference for infants and for children. But how to decipher all those lines and numbers? And what is a percentile, anyway? To find out where your child falls on the chart for height, for example:

  1. Find his measurement in inches on the left or right side of the chart, and his age along the top or bottom.
  2. Move your fingers along those lines until they intersect.
  3. Make a mark at that point.
  4. Find the curve closest to this intersection. (Each curve represents a different percentile -- or the number of children out of 100 who would measure in at that height.)
  5. Follow the curve up to the right to read which percentile it represents. (A 15-month-old boy who is 31 inches long would be in the 50th percentile, or exactly average in size.)

Rules for Good Measure

Careful tracking on the growth chart is critical to spotting problems and treating them quickly. Here's how to get the most from the childhood-growth grid.

  • Be an advocate for your child. See that he is measured for height and weight at every doctor's visit and that each measurement is carefully plotted on the grid.
  • Make sure your doctor has up-to-date charts. The latest growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make statistical adjustments for breastfed and formula-fed babies and for ethnic variations. They also include a body-mass index that flags weight problems.
  • Compare growth from one visit to the next. Make sure your child is measured in the same way at each visit. For height, your child should be standing erect with her shoes off. Babies and toddlers up to age 3 should be measured for length while lying down and should be weighed without diapers or clothing.
  • Keep your own records. Ask your doctor for a copy of the chart, or print one of your own right now: Growth Chart for Boys or Growth Chart for Girls.
  • Don't read measurements out of context. Doctors don't worry about occasional blips on the chart; instead, they look for trends over time. Bouts of flu or other illnesses may set your child back at a checkup. "Seasonal growth" (kids sometimes grow three times faster in the spring months) and age-related growth spurts could briefly bump them ahead. And don't get hung up on numbers. As long as your child grows at a steady rate and stays within the range of his established percentile -- regardless of his size -- he's growing well.
  • Know the warning signs. You should be concerned if your child crosses two or more percentile curves, say from the 50th to the 10th, or if he moves into extremes -- either below the 5th or above the 95th. A child whose weight is in the 95th percentile is considered obese. A score below the 5th percentile might mean your child has a chronic illness.

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