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:
If your child is below the 5th percentile in height, he could be deficient in growth hormone (GH). Doctors can prescribe a synthetic version to promote growth in children whose bodies don't produce enough of the hormone naturally or who suffer from certain diseases that impede growth. GH won't make basketball stars out of short kids, but it can help an abnormally small child gain some height.
What if a child is short but otherwise healthy? Most doctors won't prescribe GH to kids who are not hormone deficient, but new research suggests it could add up to two inches to a healthy child's final height. The growth comes at a high price, however. GH involves daily injections and can cost about $20,000 a year. Side effects in healthy kids are still unknown.
Q: Does a baby's size at birth offer any clues into what he'll look like as an adult?
A. No. In utero size is determined by how well the mom eats, as well as by the health of the placenta. That's why a petite woman can give birth to a ten-pound infant.
But once those babies are out of the womb, all bets are off. Big newborns who defied genetic odds will likely drop a couple of curves on the growth chart -- say from the 75th to the 25th percentile. It's also not unusual for small or average-size babies whose parents are big to grow rapidly and gain percentiles in the first two years of life. To get a fix on your how big your child will be, look at the pattern he establishes after he turns 2.
Children grow in fits and starts. Here's a look at what to expect.