There’s good news for parents of breastfed babies. After years of using formula-fed babies as the norm in growth charts, both the AAP and CDC are switching to the World Health Organization’s growth chart that uses breastfed babies and other good health practices as the norm.
The new growth chart was created by the WHO after the organization completed its WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study (MGRS). The seven-year study was undertaken “to generate new growth curves for assessing the growth and development of infants and young children around the world” and included approximately 8,500 children from widely different ethnic backgrounds and cultural settings (Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman and the USA).
The new growth chart is unique in that:
- It uses breastfed babies as the norm. The CDC explains: “Breastfeeding is the recommended standard for infant feeding. The WHO charts reflect growth patterns among children who were predominantly breastfed for at least 4 months and still breastfeeding at 12 months.”
- It uses standards based on how children should grow instead of only comparing them to other children. For instance, standards are based on children living in a non-smoking environment and provided with healthy foods, not measured against children who may be growing up in unhealthy environments. The CDC says: “Typical growth patterns may not be ideal growth patterns. The WHO growth charts are standards; they identify how children should grow when provided optimal conditions.”
- It was designed based on actual data for each age. The WHO standards were designed after studying the growth of thousands of children at each age. Surprisingly, this is not true of the old charts based on mostly formula-fed US babies twenty years to forty years ago. The CDC says: “For the CDC growth charts, weight data were not available between birth and 3 months of age and the sample sizes were small for sex and age groups during the first 6 months of age.”
- Unhealthy growth patterns are now the 2nd and 98th percentiles rather than the commonly used 5th and 95th percentiles. This will decrease the number of babies that are considered underweight or overweight. Medscape explains: “This may be beneficial because overdiagnosis of low weight-for-age can result in unnecessary interventions.”
The new WHO growth charts can be found at CDC.GOV/Growthcharts.
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