For parents, it's hard to objectively evaluate your own child. Although one part of you may want to identify any problems with growth and development as soon as possible, another part wants deeply to have a normal child. This can lead to a certain amount of denial that a problem exists. But although it might feel intimidating at first, talking to a doctor about your concerns ultimately can give you definite answers and, if necessary, action plans.
And parents are rightly concerned about their children's progress toward becoming physically and mentally competent adults. Problems with infant growth and development signal the need to provide additional services to the child to realize his or her full growth and development potential. The most useful information for parents is that which assists in detecting problems as early as possible and facilitates getting help to correct a problem—indeed, early intervention is crucial.
Because parents are so emotionally involved in their own child and because there are such nuances in every individual's development patterns (sometimes referred to as "biological variability"), it definitely can be difficult to identify problems in children's growth and development.
The definition of "normal" is broad and influenced by the infinite variations in genetic inheritance and environmental influence. For doctors, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish normal variation from true problems.
Standards and Principles of Growth
There are many standards available to help parents evaluate how their children are doing before birth, at birth, and throughout childhood. (In fact, the purpose of this website is to help parents find and use those standards.)
There are a few principles that will help you make sense of your infant's growth and development as you monitor it:
- Development follows definite patterns. The ranges of seemingly normal growth from conception to adulthood have been studied and published. Your infant's doctor or nurse practitioner should routinely evaluate and graph your child's progress against these standards. Unfortunately, there are not good standards for every racial and ethnic group.
- Consistent development trumps peer comparisons. That is, a pattern of steady growth and development is more important than whether children are bigger or smaller than most of their peers. And graphing a child's weight is much more effective than just collecting the measurements. Here's a sample growth chart graph for a child's first few months.
- Size at birth poorly predicts final adult height or weight. This more accurately reflects the intrauterine environment. (Read more about fetal size and development here.)
- Early accomplishments aren't everything. Reaching developmental milestones earlier than most children does not necessarily indicate greater intelligence.
- Abnormalities of hearing and sight require early corrective action to permit normal language and intellectual development. Be especially watchful of any apparent problems in these areas.