Weight gain is important to keep an eye on during the early years as it is an important indicator of growth and development. Your baby’s weight may differ from others weight of the same age. But whatever the weight, you want it to increase at a steady rate. If weight gain is too fast research shows babies are at risk of childhood obesity and associated diseases. If weight gain is too slow baby risks developing physical or psychological problems. The brain is growing rapidly during these first years and it requires essential nutrients to keep up.
You can expect growth patterns to change at different ages. In the first four months babies are expected to put on between 100 and 200 grams per week—but each baby is different. The rate slows a bit from four to six months then slows again from six months. You can see this growth pattern if you plot the weights on the growth chart in your babies ‘Personal Health Record’ (PHR) that you got at the birth.
Growth charts act as a guide to show long term growth patterns in either a breastfed or formula fed infant. It is important for health professionals to watch whether the growth curve is rising rapidly, plateauing or dropping. Variations could indicate underlying psychosocial or medical problems that require further investigation. If you move states at any time keep this book safe for health professionals to refer to.
Weight gain may vary when using different scales so aim to stick with the same scales. Don’t panic if the weight reading is too low or high on occasions as it is the long term pattern that’s important.
If your baby’s expected weight gain is too slow, feeding patterns can be changed to improve intake, which is where a child health professional can help.
It could mean increasing breastmilk supply or the frequency of breastfeeds. In a baby who is fed infant formula it may mean readjusting the intake amount or checking that the scoop size to water ratio is correct. If older than four months slow weight gain may indicate the need to start solid food. Download ‘taste it’ eBook for advice on feeding baby solids. If older than seven months it may be the type of foods and the frequency that needs adjusting—often more protein and essential fats are necessary to fuel the increased activity demands at this age.
If weight gain is too rapid your baby may be getting too many feeds without hunger cues or an older baby may not be expending enough energy between feeds or eating the wrong foods. Offering three to four hourly breastfeeds or bottles of infant formula during the day and a couple of times overnight in the first four months is generally plenty of nutrients for a good weight gain, providing the milk source is ample and there are no underlying medical issues.
The balance of weight gain and activity is helpful in maintaining regular, soft bowel actions.
There is an old wives tale that mothers sometimes aspired to: ‘a fat baby is a happy baby’ but research now shows that rapid weight gain during the first year of life is one of the factors that leads to childhood obesity—which now effects one in four Australian children. But don’t panic and go to the other extreme where you give your baby or toddler ‘reduced’ or ‘no-fat’ dairy products and no snacks between meals—infants require essential fat and regular food intake for brain growth and development.
Comfortably nourished babies and toddlers will generally sleep well and while asleep the body releases a ‘growth stimulating hormone’. For this reason poor sleep patterns can cause slow weight gain. Poor infant sleep and slow weight gain can become a viscious cycle leading to exhausted parents and further sleep and feeding issues. To avoid getting caught in this cycle it is recommended parents seek professional child health advice early. Download ‘Putting them to Sleep’ eBook now for advice on how to get more sleep.
This article was brought to you by Jan Murray, Private Child Health Consultant who is an internationally renowned expert in her field. Jan encourages parents in the area of infant sleep, nutrition, activities and family balance. Jan publishes regular ezine and blog articles to provide free parenting tips, tools and resources to educate and support those caring for young babies and children.