A baby’s weight gain is important to keep an eye on during the early years. Their weight gain, during this time, is an important indicator of growth and development. Your baby’s weight may differ from other babies’ weight of the same age but whatever the weight, you want it to increase at a steady rate. If their weight gain is too fast research shows they are at risk of childhood obesity and associated diseases. If weight gain is too slow bub risks developing physical or psychological problems. Babies’ brain is growing rapidly during these first years and it requires essential nutrients to keep up.
You can expect babies 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 their weights on the growth chart in your baby’s ‘Personal Health Record’ (PHR) book you got at their birth. Growth charts act as a guide to show long term growth patterns in either a breastfed or formula fed infant. It is important to watch whether your baby’s growth curve is rising rapidly, plateauing or dropping. If you are weighing baby yourself plot the weight on this graph and seek professional guidance when you see either of these patterns occurring. Health professionals can pick up faltering growth patterns that could indicate underlying psycho-social or medical problems that require further investigation. If you move states at any time keep this book safe for health professionals to refer to.
Some newborns are sleepy during the early weeks. It is important to wake these little ones regularly for feeds until they are alert enough to wake themselves. Be sure to check the nappy regularly as wee and poo is a good indicator of how much fluid they are getting.
Baby’s weight gain may vary when using different scales so aim to stick with the same scales. Don’t panic if their weight reading is too low or high on occasions as it is the long term pattern that’s important. Weighing them regularly picks up faltering growth patterns. Some states provide a regular schedule for when to do this but if not, the ‘health check’ section in baby’s PHR will suggest appropriate ages for check ups. These ages are significant for indicating growth and development milestones. If at these times 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 breast milk 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 babies are older than four months slow weight gain may indicate the need for them to start solid food. If baby is 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 babies’ first year is one of the factors that leads to childhood obesity-which now affects one in four Australian children. But don’t panic and go to the other extreme where you give your baby ‘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 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 viscous 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.