New parents are pleased when their baby gains weight as expected, but if the rate of weight gain is slow parents can become worried and concerned about their child's future size.
New research from the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol shows that most babies who are slow to put on weight in the first nine months of life have caught up to within the normal range by the age of 13, but remain lighter and shorter than many of their peers. There are significant differences in the pattern of 'catchup', depending on the infant's age when the slow weight gain occurs.
The new findings, published today [Monday 25 February] in the journal Pediatrics, are based on data from 11,499 participants in Children of the 90s, and provide the most conclusive and reassuring evidence for parents to date that, with the right care, many infants who fail to put on weight quickly in the first nine months of life will catch up over time.
The study found that, of the 11,499 infants born at term, 507 were slow to put on weight before the age of eight weeks ('early group') and 480 were slow to gain weight between eight weeks and nine months ('late group'). Thirty children were common to both groups.
The infants in the early group recovered quickly and had almost caught up in weight by the age of two, whereas those in the later group gained weight slowly until the age of 7, then had a 'spurt' between 7 and 10 years, but remained considerably shorter and lighter than their peers and those in the early group at the age of 13. At that age, children in the later group were on average 5.5k lighter and almost 4cm shorter than their peers; those in the early group were on average 2.5k lighter and 3.25cm shorter than their peers.
Slow weight gain is often seen by parents and some healthcare professionals as a sign of underlying ill health and clinicians face a dilemma between taking steps to increase a child's energy intake and putting them at risk of obesity later in life by encouraging too rapid weight gain.
The study shows that there were very different patterns of recovery between the early and late groups, even when other factors like the mother's education, background, and her weight and height were taken into account, but that there was little difference between boys and girls.
Professor Alan Emond, the paper's main author explains: