Worried about your baby's weight?

Weighing a toddler Africa

Parents should be aware that a baby’s birth weight depends more on the mother’s diet and health during pregnancy than on genetics. For example, a mother with gestational diabetes is likely to have a larger-than-average baby, even though the baby’s genetics may actually point toward a smaller size in adulthood. Other babies may be born smaller than average, but be genetically destined to become tall adults. So some babies need to gain weight quickly to catch up, while others need to ‘catch down.

While slow-gaining babies tend to get the most attention, there are new concerns about babies who gain quickly, especially since the introduction of the WHO charts. “You need to look at height as well as weight,” says Marchand. “A baby who is in the 50th percentile for weight but only the fifth percentile for height may be overweight. A baby on the 95th percentile for both weight and height is probably just fine.”

These are average expectations for the weight gain of breastfed babies:

• In the first few days after birth, babies normally lose weight, then get back to their birth weight by about 10 days. If that’s not the case, says Marchand, the baby and how she is feeding should be assessed by a doctor.

• In the first three months, a baby should gain, on average, 140 to 210 grams (five to 7½ ounces) per week. Toronto breastfeeding expert and pediatrician Jack Newman point out that these averages can be misleading. “A baby who is following the 95th percentile on the growth chart will be gaining significantly more. A baby following the third percentile gains significantly less than that. That’s one reason growth curves are a better way to judge how the baby is growing.”

• Between three and six months of age, the average rate of baby weight gain slows down to between 105 and 147 grams (four to five ounces) per week.

• Between six and 12 months, the average growth rate is 70 to 91 grams (2½ to three ounces) per week.

• On average, babies double their birth weight by four or five months and triple it by a year.

What to do when your baby isn’t gaining

Pediatrician and breastfeeding expert Jack Newman says the first step is often to improve the way the baby latches on to the breast. “It’s important that the mother know when the baby is getting milk rather than just ‘nibbling’ at the breast. When the baby is not drinking much, using compression can help,” he adds. Breast compression means squeezing your breast while the baby is sucking, but not drinking — like expressing milk into the baby’s mouth. If the baby’s weight gain has slowed or even stopped, the mother’s milk supply may have decreased, and this needs to be investigated by someone with breastfeeding expertise. More information on possible causes — including videos showing how to latch a baby and how to know when the baby is drinking — are on Newman’s website at nbci.ca.
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