MY NEIGHBOUR’S seven-month-old is a cheerful baby. But whenever relatives descend on her home, the baby is declared underweight. The fact that the baby is able to crawl, sit without support, transfer objects from one hand to another, show stranger anxiety, say two syllabic repetitive words or locate the direction of a sound seems to be of little consequence.
A chubby, slightly overweight baby is much desired, as it is associated with good health and, more important, the economic standing of the family. But not every newborn fattens up the way we want him/her to.
Infants of this age may appear thin for a number of reasons.
(i) Natural growth pattern: Growth in length begins to gain prominence after the first five months. The baby appears longer and leaner because bones and muscles have grown. The result is a less ‘round’ baby.
(ii) Slower rate of growth in the second six months: The rate of growth is not the same for an infant during the entire course of its first year. While most babies put on somewhere between 600-800 grams in first five months, this slows by the time the baby crosses the sixth month. Between six months and one year, a baby is likely to gain only between one and a half to three kilograms. Just make sure that your baby triples the birth weight by the first birthday. It is also important to understand that every baby has his or her own rate of growth.
(iii) Genetic disposition: Size of the baby and his ability to put on weight is also genetically determined. Babies of short, petite parents tend to be smaller. Babies of parents who were skinny as a baby themselves also tend to be skinny.
(iv) Complementary food: Most babies begin to eat solid food as well as creep/crawl between the sixth and tenth month. Both these activities have been tied to causing a number of infections―from gastric to respiratory―which could cause a setback in weight gain. If your child appears underweight because he hasn’t recovered fully from an infection, don’t worry. He is likely to make it up in the next growth spurt with the right diagnosis and intervention.
(vi) A baby on the go: An active baby who spends all his time creeping and crawling is likely to burn calories and stay leaner than a baby that spends much of its time sleeping or sitting.
Though it is tempting and easy to equate growth to weight, there are different milestones in a child’s life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national public health agency of the US, lists out social/emotional, communication, cognitive and movement milestones from 2 months to 5 years (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html), which is a quick, one-stop reference to check if your baby is on track. The WHO, too, lists child growth standards as height for age, weight for age, head circumference for age (https://www.who.int/tools/child-growth-standards). This will help you understand where your child stands against global standards for child growth. The WHO takes into consideration variations caused by differences in race, ethnicity and nutrition levels.
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