When I was pregnant with my son all his scans showed him to be an average sized baby. When he was born he was placed on the 50th percentile. By his 6-week check-up he was down to 2.5%. That’s when I started to panic – was I failing to nurture my baby properly? In this blog post I’m going to look at child growth and development from the experts’ point of view, and help parents figure out what is normal growth rate for your child.
As new parents we all focus hard on every tiny development in our children. The weigh-ins with midwives and health visitors can become all-consuming emotional markers of our ability to care for a baby. But when is this just the natural desire for our child to thrive, and when should parents start to worry that there may be something wrong?
Advertorial content: this post contains information from, and links to More Than Height, who have paid me for my time in creating this awareness article for my audience.
What is a child growth disorder?
A growth disorder can affect a person’s height, weight, and sexual development, but parents will most often notice a problem with their child’s development either through early checks on baby weight, or later, through a difference in height compared to their friends.
Growth disorders can occur for a number of reasons, and it’s not just about whether we’re feeding our children properly, or other environmental factors like hours of sleep and opportunities to move their bodies. A child’s growth rate is also influenced by their genes, their general health, and hormones, including a growth hormone deficiency.
What are the signs of a growth disorder?
In our case there were good reasons for the dramatic slow-down in our son’s growth rate. He was diagnosed with acid reflux and milk protein intolerance soon after birth. The prescription milk he was given smelled so awful that I couldn’t blame him for only managing to stomach a few ounces a day. He also comes from a family of what I will politely describe as not terribly tall men, so despite optimal growth in-utero, he was never destined to be a basketball player!
But what red flags should parents be aware of if they’re worried about their child’s height or weight? One of the biggest contributors to delayed growth in children is a growth hormone deficiency. Growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland, and it sends messages to all the systems of the body to cause them to grow and mature. Here are some of the signs that growth hormone might not be functioning as it should:
- Clothes getting worn out before your child outgrows them
- Your child is regularly mistaken for someone younger
- Your child is significantly smaller than his peer group
- Your child is bullied or teased about their height
- Your child is shorter than siblings or parents were at the same age.
Why it’s important to seek help
If you’re worried about your child’s growth it’s important to investigate, because there are some types of growth disorders that can cause health problems in later life if left untreated. Here are some reasons why it’s important not to dismiss slow growth as something trivial:
- Slow growth rate becomes increasingly notable after a child’s 3rd birthday, with growth less than 3.5cm per year
- Children with growth disorders are more at risk of serious brain injuries such as tumours and may require radiation treatments
- Growth hormone deficiency affects about 1 in every 3,800 babies
- If untreated growth hormone deficiency can lead to serious mental health issues in later life, such as depression & anxiety
How to monitor your child’s growth
It’s important to keep anything you notice in perspective, which is why it’s a good idea to make a regular note of your child’s height. My son has always been shorter than most of his friends, and he has been teased about that. But whenever I’ve checked his height he’s always grown a reasonable amount – he just started small!
The other thing to keep in mind is that children grow at wildly different rates, especially during puberty. None of this is uniform, and in my experience boys tend to go through their biggest teenage growth spurt at completely different ages compared to girls. Whereas I watched my daughter’s friends all jostle for tallest position over the course of a year or so, my son’s friends all went at different times. Several of his friends’ voices dropped a whole year before his followed suit, and he’s even now overtaking some of his friends who haven’t hit that stage yet.
Keeping a regular record on More Than Height’s child height calculator will help you see if there is sustained growth, or if there might be a need to get an expert medical opinion. All you do is enter your child’s date of birth, height and weight, and parents’ heights, and you’ll be taken to a chart that indicates whether their growth is in an expected range for their age. You’ll also be given a predicted final height, which I found immensely reassuring – my son will be pleased to learn that he’s probably going to be taller than his dad!
What to do next
First, keep start recording your child’s height and weight and keep a record. Visit the More Than Height website to find out more about growth disorders and what you can do if you are worried about your child. Conditions like hypothyroidism and growth hormone deficiency can be effectively managed with medications, and there are lots of things that can be done to support children with growth conditions that have more complex causes.
More Than Height also has advice on what you can say to your GP if you want to get a medical diagnosis, and positive stories on living with a growth disorder should your child be diagnosed.