Infant Weight Gain: Navigating the Numbers

By Georgina Chong-You

At the moment of birth, babies are grouped by numbers— date of birth, time of birth, weight, height, length, number of feedings, number of wet diapers, etc. Numbers consume the majority of all of our lives, especially infants.

These numbers carry a certain power with them—oftentimes toying with the emotions of a new mom. I’m speaking from experience, because I was a recipient of the power of the numbers being wielded at me. Now, it wasn’t a bad experience, but it was certainly an emotional one, and one I learned a great deal from. My first son was born at a normal weight of 7 pounds, 11 ounces. As a first-time mom, my level of anxiety was quite high, and I second-guessed everything I did and every number that was assigned to him. I had difficulty when I first began breastfeeding in the first few months of his life, and consequentially, it caused him to gain weight very slowly. More numbers. My wonderful pediatrician was encouraging and motivated me to continue breastfeeding around the clock so that he would gain weight faster. I was confident I could do it—just get that number to increase. Trigger the anxiety. I would worry when I was feeding him and worry when I was not feeding him, thinking that I should be giving him milk around the clock in order to get his weight higher and higher. This anxiety, however, caused my milk supply to decrease, which led to more anxiety about increasing my supply in order to get his weight up, and this led to taking a certain number of natural lactation pills everyday to increase said milk supply. And more numbers. This became an exhaustive cycle lasting a few months, until one doctor’s appointment where my pediatrician told me that although he was not gaining weight quickly, he was still gaining it. So I was forced to look at the numbers for what they really were, and not fight against them, but understand them. My doctor reminded me that my son had consistently wet diapers, which meant that he was taking in the right amount of fluids his body needed, and that most importantly, he was healthy and happy.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Mayo Clinic, every infant is assigned an expected growth chart at birth, listing their expected weight gain per month. Every mom is very familiar with the weight check during each well routine baby exam where their doctor measures the baby’s head circumference, length, and then their weight gain. After which, the doc will keep a record of these numbers on a growth chart that will compare your child’s weight gain with other infants of the same age. On average, most babies who are born full term (38-40 weeks gestation) weigh between 6-9 pounds. However, each infant is different and their birth weights vary because of early delivery or genetics that may affect their weight. It is important to remember that “babies can be born outside of the average guidelines and still be completely healthy,” according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Again, keep in mind that every baby is different and unique. Some babies gain weight quickly and some gain weight slowly—all at his or her own pace.

Renowned parenting resource, Dr. Sears and the World Health Organization encourages parents to monitor their baby’s weight gain by:

  • Scheduling weight checks using a scale at a doctor’s office.
  • Checking food intake at home by ensuring your baby is having at least 5-7 wet diapers a day and at least about 3 – 4 diapers a day. (This may vary with formula-fed babies versus breastfed babies.)
  • Noticing if your baby seems satisfied at least for a little while after feeding. (Keep in mind that some babies do seem to want to eat all the time!)

*If at any time you have concerns or questions about your baby’s weight gain, don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider. After all, they are there to help.*