Growth charts based on breastfed babies

Every new baby has a chart against which his progress is measured, and now these have changed to encourage more mums to breastfeed

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At birth, all babies are given a health record book in which there are many different pages to help keep track of immunisations, weight changes and other developmental and health landmarks. In the early months of your baby’s life, this book is very important to you, as gauging your child’s growth is a key indicator that he is well and that he is drinking enough milk.

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In the past the charts, which show average growth for all babies, have been plotted according to average measurements of babies fed predominantly on formula milk. However, this is now changing so that in the future the charts will show average figures for breast-fed babies.

Why do the charts need to change?

Growth charts are used for all babies, whether they are breastfed or formula fed, and formula-fed babies put on weight more quickly than breastfed ones, making the old charts’ average weight measurements heavier. This means that often breastfed babies on the old charts looked as though they weren’t thriving as well as formula-fed children.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), through extensive research over many years, advises that the best possible start to life is for babies to be breastfed for the first six months. The Organisation were therefore concerned that the old growth charts would make parents opt for formula feeding to push their babies up to or above the average.

Instead, WHO wants parents to understand the risks from longer term obesity which increase for formula-fed babies. Research shows that breast-fed babies tend to gain weight at a healthier pace and are less likely to become obese in later life. So the new charts are based on the weight of breast-fed babies to bring these averages down.

How the change will work

The new charts will encourage breastfeeding as the most regular way to feed a new baby and will be included in Personal Child Health Record books, which parents of every newborn are given. Tracking weight from birth up to four years, they will help parents spot the early risk of obesity and provide important reassurance about the slower weight gain of breast-fed babies.
 
The new charts include easy-to-follow instructions plus a chart specifically for premature babies. As babies can lose and gain weight at different rates in the first two weeks, it is recommended that they are not measured during this time. The charts also help make more reliable predictions of a child’s adult height.

The NHS have made a video explaining the new charts, which you can see online by clicking here.

How growth charts are used


  • You are encouraged to keep in regular contact with your local health visitor, who can see from weighing sessions, how your baby is growing.
  • Remember to take your Personal Child Health Records book along with you every time you visit the baby clinic or your GP.
  • It is not always easy to see if your baby is getting enough milk during a feed, especially with breastfeeding or with babies who are a little bit sick after a feed (this is called ‘possetting’), so a growth chart is a good way to gauge if your child is thriving.
  • It is important for all parents to remember that a child is always measured on the growth chart according to his or her own progress. That is, if your child is large or small, there is a line he or she should follow upwards. It is not a question of bouncing up to a higher growth line if your child is naturally smaller than another mum’s baby.

Mum’s story

“Growth charts reassured me”

“My son was doing well on breastmilk but I was ill and needed an operation when he was six weeks old. While we were in hospital together he also picked up a cold, and I was so disappointed to see that by seven weeks his weight hadn’t gone up. But given that we’d been through a tough week, we stuck at breastfeeding, and he started putting on weight again. He’s a healthy toddler now, but having those little dots plotted regularly on his growth chart through the first year really reassured me.”

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Beth, 34, mum to Frankie, 2

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