Nearly two in five parents visit me for concerns related to their child's growth. Some ask for ways to increase their child's height, some for their child to have stronger immunity and others for ensuring their child is energetic. Normal growth is a sign of well-being and good health, so the parental concern is understandable.
I believe that 3Ns help with optimum growth of a child " nature, nurture and nutrition. In addition to these, tracking your child's growth is something that I encourage parents to do. It is very easy, simple and effective.
Why should parents monitor their child's growth and development?
Growth and developmental disabilities are incredibly common among children. Developmental disorders increase a child's risk for poor school performance, frequent absences from school, as well as for having more health problems. Most of the time, diagnoses of developmental delays are picked up only when children go to school.
Timely monitoring can pick up treatable causes of abnormal growth. This prevents diagnosis at an inadequate older age, treatment by when may not guarantee normal growth or near-normal height. Early treatment can make a big difference in a child's ability to learn new skills.
How can parents monitor their child's growth and development at home?
Quite simply, growth means an increase in the physical size of the body whereas development refers to improvement in skills and function in your child.
Parents can easily measure a child's weight and height to track growth. Tracking your child's weight can tell you not only if the weight gain is inadequate but also if your child is gaining weight too fast. This can weed out undernutrition and overnutrition immediately. Parents can measure the height and weight of a child on a monthly basis.
The World Health Organisation has standardised growth charts for boys and girls. Parents can find online resources and websites which can plot the child's growth simply by entering the measured height and weight. This can be presented to the paediatrician on the next visit.
Parents can know about their child's development by tracking if they achieve age-dependent milestones. You know your child the best and if you feel there is something off, kindly discuss this with your paediatrician without delay.
According to WHO, globally 15-20 percent of children have disabilities; of which 85 percent are in developing countries.
Estimated statistics on developmental issues in Indian children
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) seen among 1 in 500 children. 6
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seen in 11.3% primary school children. 36.11% of the children with ADHD showed behavioural difficulties.6
Observe, observe and observe
What if parents do not have a weighing scale or a height measure at home? Then observing subtle changes like clothing that feels loose, old pants that still fit your grown child, poor appetite and general tiredness, frequent diarrhoea can give a clue that something is amiss.
Overall, keeping a close tab on your child can open discussion points with your paediatrician. It goes without saying that nutrition is the cornerstone for healthy growth. Most of the time, even if parents feed nutritious food to their children, most of it might not be absorbed efficiently. Combining iron foods with vitamin C foods; calcium with vitamin D and other such combinations help. In case of supplements, look out for prebiotics or ask your paediatrician to help you choose the one which your child's body can utilise easily.
The author is a senior consultant - Pediatrics & Neonatology, USA and at Apollo Hospital and Apollo Cradle Hospital.