Early childhood growth and development is essential to a healthy body and mind later in life. While there are guidelines for the average expected weight and height growth during the early childhood years, many children grow at their own rate. It is normal for children to have growth spurts throughout their youth, most often at different times than other children. Children grow and develop in a unique, individualized manner. However, growth charts are used to compare children and estimate a healthy growth pattern.
David Trachtenbarg and Thomas Golemon in “Care of the Premature Infant: Monitoring Growth and Development,” define a premature as an infant born before 37 weeks of gestation. Premature infants typically weigh less than 2500 grams and are at greater risk for medical and nutritional difficulty. For the first 2 years of life, growth is plotted using age corrected for prematurity. Growth charts for premature infants have been specifically developed and use estimated due date rather than actual birth date. Once the infant reaches 2 years of age, a standard growth chart for chronological age may be used. However, even in adolescents, children who were born prematurely may be smaller than children born full term.
Catch Up Growth
In “Catch Up Growth,” Bart Boersma and Jan Marten Wit define the period of rapid growth in young children who were born prematurely as ‘catch up growth.’ In general terms, this is a time during which children who were born before 37 weeks' gestation catch up in terms of height and weight to children of the same age who were born full term. This period is characterized by rapid weight gain, height growth and enlargement of head circumference. Catch up growth allows children to grow and develop in a similar progression as other children after the age of 2.
According to “Kid’s Health,” physical growth refers to the height and weight increase, as well as other bodily changes that occur when a child matures. In the first year of life, infants grow at a rapid rate. Birth weight is nearly tripled in the first year of life. After this first, distinct growth spurt, no child continues to grow at the rate experienced during infancy. During childhood, children grow at varied rates; no child grows at a perfectly steady rate during childhood. Throughout the prepubescent years, there will be weeks, or even months, of slightly slower growth alternated with mini growth spurts in most children. The average weight gain for children age 5 to 10 is between 5 to 7 pounds per year.
As with weight, growth in length increases dramatically in the first year. By the age of 1, the birth length doubles, growing at an astonishing 10 inches in 1 year alone. Stature then begins to increase at a steadier rate of 2 to 3 inches per year until adolescence. Children also experience periods of height bursts coupled with no change at all. Because children grow at their own rate, it is normal for their height to range from a lower to an upper limit. It is most likely dependent upon their body build and parent’s body frame. By age 8 for girls, and age 9 for boys, average children have attained 75% of their adult height.
According to “Mental Health Net,” a child’s healthy growth is supported by a healthy lifestyle. Children should have plenty of exercise and sleep, and eat a balanced diet in order to continue to develop strong muscles and bones and to maintain a healthy weight for height status. Teaching children about healthy lifestyles and promoting a positive body image is essential at this age.
- "American Family Physician”; Care of the Premature Infant: Monitoring Growth and Development; David Trachtenbarg and Thomas Golemon; May 1998.
- "Kid’s Health”; Your Child’s Growth
- "Family Practice Notebook”; Height Measurement in Children
- "Mental Health Net”; Early Childhood Physical Development