One of the aspects that makes the field Pediatrics different from adult medicine is that children are constantly changing. They grow at a tremendous rate, especially during the first few years of life. During this period, they also go through the stages of physical and mental development. An important role of the pediatric check-up is to make sure that children are growing and developing normally.
About Growth Curves
When a child is assessed for growth, three important measurements are taken: height, weight, and head circumference. These measurements are then placed or plotted on a growth curve or chart that illustrates the average rate and amount of growth in children within different age groups. In other words, growth curves allow your healthcare provider to record and follow baby's specific pattern of growth. Whether a baby is growing normally or not depends on the rate of growth over time as compared with the average or normal rates for that age. Because boys grow at different rates from girls, separate growth curves are used for each gender. In order to be able to properly assess a child's growth, the curve has to be maintained and looked at over several measurements and time. In this way, the growth curve really charts out a child's growth pattern and rate until adulthood. Consequently, the growth curve is a vital part of any child's medical record.
Growth curves can also provide very good clues as to whether certain problems or symptoms are serious. For example, a common complaint is that a child is not eating enough or is a picky eater. How serious or worrisome the problem is depends in large part on the growth pattern. If the growth rate is normal, then despite the picky eating habits, the child is getting enough calories to grow. Similarly, when assessing babies and young children for other problems such as frequent infections or colds, an important part of the assessment is looking at the growth curve. Again, if the growth rate is normal, chances are that there really is nothing seriously wrong. The growth curve is a child's, parent's, and the healthcare provider's best friend. However, a growth curve can only be kept up to date when parents bring their children in for regular checkups.
WHO Growth Charts
The growth charts previously used up until a few years ago reflected an American population. The WHO charts better reflect the global profile now by representing a broader global population range.
Note that certain conditions or situations are associated with different growth rates and patterns: babies born prematurely and children with chronic medical conditions display different growth rates. As a result, specific growth charts are currently available for children with specific situations and conditions, such as premature birth and Down's syndrome.
Every Child is Different!
It is important to understand that each child is unique. Parents should not compare one child to another. This is not the purpose of growth charts; their role is to help make sure that a child is growing at a normal rate.