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Uncharted Territory: Five Reasons Not to Worry About Weight

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I was going to through my oldest daughter’s closet this week, looking for a long lost stuffed animal, when I came across a box of her baby things and the little weight gain chart I had kept hidden inside.  Looking at that little pink book that I had carried with me each week to the breastfeeding clinic brought back a lot of memories.

You see, she was a baby who gained weight very slowly.  Every day for the first six months of her life I poured everything I had into nursing her on demand. And every Thursday I dutifully bundled her up and headed down the road to the clinic. I don’t know why I kept going so religiously because every week it felt like my hard work melted away to nothing as the nurse weighed her and told me the measly number of ounces she had gained that week.  It took a toll on my self esteem.  Every time it was pointed out on the chart (the dreaded chart!) that she was at the lower end, my confidence would plummet. I mean she was cute, content, and healthy and I was doing what I thought was the right thing; why didn’t the scale reflect that?

Fast forward three years…

The day I took my youngest daughter for her 18 month old needles, things changed.  My beautiful little girl was weighed and measured and I was told in a very solemn voice that she was just barely hanging onto the 10 percentile for weight.  I nearly fell over.  I mean this kid ate everything you could give her and she was still nursing lots during the day!  Her skin was pink and healthy, her eyes bright and shiny, and she was full of energy.  Then I started to wonder… who were they comparing her to?  Where did those percentile rankings come from?

I asked if the nurse was using the WHO charts for breastfed babies.  She said no.

That’s when I decided that I was done with the charts. That was my breaking point.  I got mad. And in the process of being mad and talking to people I discovered some things I didn’t know before:

  • Many public health and doctor’s offices in NL use outdated charts that are based on non- breastfed babies. You can easily access the WHO charts that are based on breastfed babies here. It can make a big difference.  For example, when I got home and looked at the WHO chart for my “scrawny” 18 month old I discovered that she was actually in the 50 percentile! The good news is that the NL Department of Health is actually in the process of bringing in the WHO breastfed baby charts and they should be in use soon at your local public health office or doctor’s office.
  • Exclusively breastfed babies tend to gain weight more quickly than formula fed babies for the first 2-3 months and then more slowly for the rest of the first year.  As Jack Newman says, “The more rapid weight gain of the artificially fed baby is not the standard. Breastfeeding is the normal, natural, physiologic way of feeding infants and young children. Using the artificially fed baby as the model of normal is not rational and leads us to make errors in advising mothers about feeding and growth.”
  • The normal rate of weight gain for a breastfed baby can be anywhere between 4-8 ounces a week. Most babies will double their birth weight by 3-4 months. You can see the average weight gain rate for breastfed babies here.  Obviously these are guidelines only; my first daughter never gained more than 4 ounces a week and took until she was 6 months old before she doubled her birth weight.
  • The best way to see if your baby is getting enough milk?  Check your latch and watch how often how often baby poos and pees.  Please don’t listen to anyone who tells you to pump to “see how much milk you have”. Seriously, this is a terrible way to gauge your milk supply.  If the person who suggested it is a medical professional then run far away from them and go see someone else.
  • Just because a baby starts pulling away from the breast or seems unhappy, don’t assume that your milk has dried up.  Check the latch and try breast compressions.  Remember that when deciding if your baby is gaining enough, it is more important to look at the baby and not the scale (I wish I had known this when I was obsessively weighing my first baby every week).

I put that little pink book back in the closet today, but not before I considered throwing it out and relieving myself of the guilt and heartache. Maybe I will get rid of it someday. The thing is, I know now that I shouldn’t have been so obsessed with her weight and I should have just spent my time enjoying her as she was- small, content, and perfect.

Uncharted Territory: Five Reasons Not to Worry About Weight

2 Responses to Uncharted Territory: Five Reasons Not to Worry About Weight

  1. I went through such a similar thing with my oldest daughter! She is very petite – she was only 6lbs at birth and 16lbs by a year old, now at 3.5, she is barely 30lbs. Her early days were fraught with panic and stress over her weight and every well-baby check-up afterwards included some comment on how we could get more food into her. But she eats extremely well and is just a small person. She takes after my mom, who is only 5’1″. It can be very frustrating that doctors and nurses seem to think that the higher a baby is on the chart, the better. Some people are just small!

  2. Exactly, Jan! There’s nothing wrong with being on the small side- most adults would want to be! It just seems like for babies we have it backwards- it’s better to be bigger than smaller for them. And it doesn’t help if the charts are misleading, at least they will be changing them soon.

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