Everyone wants their child to grow “normally.” But your pediatrician may or may not use the term normal. You might hear “average” rather than normal or “expected” as in “what’s average” for children at your child’s age. Regardless of whether the word is “normal” or “average,” what your doctor is referring to is how your child’s growth compares to the expected healthy growth pattern exhibited by millions of children considered healthy and growing as they should.
Growth charts indicate average growth patterns for height (or length), weight, and head circumference. Growth charts are different for boys and girls. There are also different growth charts for different age groups. And there are separate growth charts for children who have medical conditions or may be living in circumstances that might affect their growth.
The most widely accepted standard growth chart shows the expected average growth of a population of healthy Canadian infants and children based on the statistics compiled and published by the World Health Organization. View and download the World Health Organization growth charts for Canada here .
The growth chart displays curved lines that represent the expected pattern of gains in weight, height (length), and head circumference for children growing as expected. Each curved line represents what is known as a percentile. Percentile curves are indicated at 3%, 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 90%, and 97%.
What does percentile mean? For example, a child in the 75th percentile on height would be taller than 75 healthy kids and shorter than 25 of them.
Just because a child is in a lower percentile does not always mean there’s a problem. The parents might be below average in stature, so their child might be also – this is called genetic potential. Doctors look at longitudinal growth patterns – not just at one point in time. Your doctor will be able to determine if the percentile your child is following is any cause for concern.