The Chart Versus the Child

My son was 3 lbs, 13 oz at birth. He was born at 35 weeks gestation. He was the average size of a 30 week old pre-term baby because I had a lovely trifecta of pregnancy complications: a very poor functioning placenta, pre-eclampsia and subsequent intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). In terms of Infant Growth Charts and Percentiles, our teeny little guy did not even register on a chart, let alone fall within anything resembling a "normal" growth percentile.


To this day, at 4 years, 9 months old, and 33 pounds, he is still below the 5th percentile on any growth chart. He has always had his very own growth curve that hovers somewhere near the 3rd percentile.

In those early weeks and months of his life I stressed A LOT about his growth. I was at the public health unit weekly, having him weighed and measured and plotted on the very bottom of those very stress-inducing, mother- fuc...frightening charts.

He was an exclusively breastfed kid and for the most part, I lucked out with the nurses and doctors that I had contact with. Not once was I told that I should be supplementing him with formula, although I was told on more than one occasion to nurse him and then give him some pumped breastmilk to "top him up". Sometimes I did, most times I did not.

"Hey, who you calling teeny?"

And not only was he a teeny, tiny preemie, he is also the kid of an 5'9" Asian man and a 5' 3" Caucasian woman. His paternal grandmother is barely 5' tall and he has the metabolism of a Eurasion Pygmy Shrew. Genetically, he was never destined to be a really big guy or gain a huge amount of 'baby fat'!! And this is kind of my point here.

What all mamas (and daddies too) need to realize is that generally, your new baby check-ups at the Public Health Unit are done with a check list in hand.

Weigh baby -Check

Measure baby's length and head circumference - Check

Plot on Standard Infant Growth Charts - Check

Discuss baby's feeding/nutrition (whether breastfeeding or formula feeding) - Check

  • Offer up suggestions/advice if , according to above chart, baby is NOT gaining weight properly.

Get Mama to fill out or answer post-partum depression questionnaire - Check

Discuss vaccinations required and give said vaccines - Check

  • FYI - You have the right to ask for any kind of vaccine schedule you want for your child, whether that choice is none at all, or as we did, a delayed one (max 1-2 at a time).

Hand you pamphlet with age appropriate Baby Milestones - Check

Now, I am not knocking the public health nurses. They see A LOT of mamas and babies and have a lot to do in the short time they have with them. What I am saying is that these health care practitioners, and a lot of doctors too, need to look beyond the numbers on the charts and the checklists and really SEE their patients and the parents and babies before them.

Dr. Jay Gordon wrote an excellent post about this last year that sums up the issue of looking at the charts versus looking at the baby. You can read the full article here. In it he makes the point that,

"...if someone were to ask you what weight a 33-year-old man should be, you would laugh. The range of possibilities varies according to height, bone structure, ethnicity and many other factors. Yet babies are expected to fit onto charts distributed throughout the country with no regard to genetics, feeding choice or almost anything else."

I personally think that as new moms, the more charts and spreadsheets and schedules and logs that you have for your baby, the more exponentially you will drive yourself batty! While yes, it is important to track a few things in the beginning to ensure everything is trucking along nicely (I am mainly talking pees and poops here), for the most part, if we follow our instincts, listen to our babies and respond to their cues and needs (feed me, hold me, change me, love me), then they will be just fine. And if for some reason they are not, then trust me (and trust yourself), your Mama Bear instincts will kick in and you will seek and get the help that is needed.

People come in all different shapes and sizes and colors. And babies, well, they are people too (the best kind really)! Trying to fit them all onto a nice perfect curve is simply NOT going to work. And maybe, just maybe, this kind of 'chart versus child' outlook marks the beginning of our crazy North American obsession and misconception of what the ideal body should look like.

Like Dr. Gordon says, "Look at the Baby, not the scale."

Good advice for everyone really, baby or not!


(This post was inspired by a lovely mama that I met today at Cafe O'Play, who has the cutest and teeniest and completely healthy and beautiful 10 month old baby girl! Thank you.)