Growth Awareness: What Parents Need to Know

In honor of Magic Foundation’s Growth Awareness week (upcoming September 17-23, 2023) I am sharing important information about healthy growth so that parents can be aware and empowered.

Magic Foundation is a charitable organization with a mission to “provide support services for the families of children afflicted with…disorders, syndromes and diseases that affect a child’s growth.”

This post is contributed by Ellen Pashley, a parent of a child with growth deficiency. Ellen’s child has been on growth hormone therapy for the past five years, she will share a bit of her story, below.

Infant Check-Ups: Height And Weight

Do you remember your baby’s first check-ups? Usually, your infant is undressed and weighed. After, a doctor will measure their length, and maybe even head circumference, too.

While it’s pretty obvious why the doctor wants to see that your baby is gaining weight (this means your baby is getting enough nutrition), have you ever wondered why your infant’s height is measured, too?

This is to measure your infant’s growth, and it is actually a very important sign of overall health. Growth is an important indicator of health for all children, not just newborns, and continues to be until they reach adulthood.

Delayed Growth In Infants

Growth Charts

At a wellness visit or other check-up, your pediatrician might plot your infant’s weight and height on a growth chart.

This chart measures the growth of infants month by month until their 2nd or 3rd birthday.

This chart maps out if a child is in the 50 percentile – which is average, or 70 – 90 percentile (above average).

While these numbers might mean bragging rights for parents, they are vital for doctors to understand your child’s growth and overall health.

Just as you would be concerned if your newborn wasn’t gaining weight, your pediatrician should be worried if your baby is not growing according to the growth chart.

Of course, every baby is different, and being in the 40th or 30th percentile is generally not a concern (especially if Mama is petite). The numbers that are a concern are if your infant is on the extreme lower end of the growth chart, usually 3 percentile or under.

Another example might be if your child (of any age – an infant, or older) was previously on the average or higher end of the growth chart and has progressively dropped to the extreme low end.

In some cases, children can even fall below zero percentile on the growth chart, which is called “falling off the chart”.

Here is Ellen’s real-life example:

My son was born full-term, 8lbs, 3 ounces (the 80 percentile for a newborn) and did not fit into his newborn outfits – he went straight into 1 month or 3 month baby clothes.

However, he had a difficult time gaining weight. We had weekly check-ups so the doctor could monitor his weight gain.

Months passed, and he was still wearing the same 3-month-old clothes. While he started at the 80 percentile, by 6 months, he had dropped below ‘zero’ on the infant growth chart.”

These examples are signs of delayed growth or a growth deficiency.

What Is Delayed Growth In Infants?

Delayed growth is the term for when a child is not growing according to the rate for their growth chart (for example, if they started in the 80 percentile and have dropped to the 5th percentile over months or years).

They may be significantly smaller than their peers or appear younger than their actual age.

It can happen to children at any age but is often most pronounced (or more easily charted) in babies and toddlers because they experience such rapid growth.

Read more about the signs of delayed growth and signs to look out for in my other article >>

Why Is Delayed Growth A Concern?

Delayed growth, or slow growth is a concern because it suggests the possibility of a health concern. Growth, after all, is a sign of health. Delayed growth is connected to many factors, including unseen hormones.

An infant with delayed growth could have an underlying health concern, even if they otherwise appear happy and active.

What To Do If Your Child Is Not Growing According To Their Growth Chart?

You should share your concerns with your pediatrician about your child’s growth.

While some deviations on the growth chart may be normal, (i.e. a drop from 70 to 50 percentile) and not a serious concern, significant deviations or falling below the 10 percentile should be discussed with your doctor.

What Is Growth Hormone?

Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland, which is behind the eye area, inside of the human head. Since growth hormone is unseen, it can be difficult for us parents to grasp its importance.

Growth hormone plays a role in the human body in several ways:

  • By encouraging the growth of bones and bone plates
  • The development of muscles
  • It regulates metabolism and dictates how calories are used for body development (building of bones or muscle)
  • It can also help regulate blood sugar

Understanding the role growth hormone plays in the human body gives a better picture of why a growth hormone deficiency (sometimes called ‘growth deficiency’) is a health concern.

What A Growth Deficiency Means For Overall Health

A growth deficiency means the body is not producing enough growth hormone. This is much more than just “being tall”.

Growth hormone deficiency affects the development and growth of muscles and bones, metabolism and even sometimes regulation of blood sugar for hypoglycemia.

Growth hormone deficiency has also been linked to some cases of adult dwarfism.

For example, some infants with growth hormone deficiency have a difficult time walking or crawling within the expected timeframe because their bodies cannot build the necessary muscles, due to lack of growth hormones.

Growth deficiency is also connected to stamina and the body’s immune response.

Ellen’s real-life example:

“In addition to not growing at the normal rate for an infant, my son was often tired, had a poor appetite, and was frequently ill.

When he was 3 months old, we met with a team of endocrinologists and did a lot of different tests. At last, we got a diagnosis. He had an underlying health condition, which results in growth deficiency.

We started some treatment immediately but did not begin growth hormone therapy until he was 6 months old.

After starting growth hormone therapy, I noted that he became stronger, his appetite increased, and he started growing physically, too! Soon enough, he was wearing 9 month old clothes.”

Is Delayed Growth Just About Being Short?

No, it’s not about being short – it is about overall health.

Since delayed growth can be a symptom of an underlying health problem it is important to get the root of delayed growth.

If a doctor believes your child has delayed growth (not just short of stature) he or she should send your little one for further testing to reach a conclusive diagnosis.

When You Should Talk To Your Doctor

If you are worried about your child’s growth in any of the following areas, it’s worth it to have a chat with your pediatrician:

  • Is your child very small for their age?
  • Does it seem like your child has not grown over the course of months (infants) or years (older children)?
  • Is your infant struggling to meet milestones like walking or crawling, but does not have any noted physical or cognitive delays?
  • Has your child significantly deviated from their line on the infant growth chart?
  • Does your child struggle to gain weight, or is being observed for “failure to thrive”?
  • Does your child still have a “baby face” even though they are no longer a toddler?
  • Do you have other concerns related to your child’s growth? (these may include questions about puberty or dwarfism)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should talk to your doctor.

Growth Awareness – FAQs

Here are my answer to some additional questions you may have.

What Is Delayed Growth?

When a child is not growing according to a normal growth rate, it is called delayed growth.

Delayed growth is usually determined by plotting a child’s height and weight on a growth chart.

It is not a medical diagnosis, it is a symptom and could be a sign of an underlying health concern.

What Is The Difference Between Delayed Growth And Growth Hormone Deficiency?

The difference is that delayed growth is a symptom, whereas growth hormone deficiency is a diagnosis.

Delayed growth (or a growth delay) is the overarching term for any reason a child falls behind a normal growth rate.

Reasons for this vary, and can be attributed to several factors including (but not limited to): severe illness, if a child was born prematurely, poor nutrition, or a hormonal problem.

Growth deficiency is a medical diagnosis that is concluded based on a series of laboratory tests. You may be referred to an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in the body’s hormones) in order to complete the tests and reach a conclusive diagnosis.

Growth hormone deficiency is a hormonal problem. With growth deficiency, a child’s body does not make enough growth hormones and they may need treatment.

There are several health concerns connected to growth deficiency, some are: hypothyroidism, problems with the pituitary gland, Russel-Silver Syndrome, and others.

This is why it is important to discuss your concerns about your child’s growth with a medical doctor.

The important thing to be aware of is that poor growth (or lack of growth) may be an indication of a health problem. Further testing might be the answer to getting your children the treatment they need for better health.

Why Does Growth Matter If My Child Is Otherwise Happy?

You cannot see hormones, including growth hormones or thyroid hormones, but they play an important role in your child’s overall health.

Since slow growth or lack of growth could be a sign of a hormonal problem, it is important to rule out growth deficiency.

If your child doesn’t appear to be growing, or they are significantly smaller than their peers, consider discussing your child’s growth with your pediatrician.

What Should I Do If I Have Concerns About My Child’s Growth?

You should talk to your doctor, specifically addressing the topic of growth.

If you have your child’s growth chart, bring it with you to the appointment.

Ellen’s story:

“My son is almost five years old, and very active. Now, he is the same size as his peers, and growing at a normal rate for his age.

Since starting growth hormone therapy four years ago, I can see so many positive benefits, beyond just physical growth: his immune system is stronger, he can run and play alongside his peers without getting fatigued.

I am happy that he is growing and healthier, but the biggest relief is that he is getting treatment for an underlying health condition.

He doesn’t just look healthier – he IS healthier.”

Children’s Growth Awareness Week 2023

September 17 – 23, 2023

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Magic Foundation

The purpose of this article is informative. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice or medical care. Remember: safety first! Consult your doctor/pediatrician in case of any doubts. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here.


About Me - Zooey BarnettHello Moms! I am Zooey. I am a wife and a mother of three amazing kids: almost 5-year-old Haley and 2-year-old twins Jesse and Matthew. I am a jogger, cooker and blogger.

If you have a question or a comment, do not hesitate to write to me! 🙂

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