How to tell if your baby is thriving
Written by: Dr Laura Stewart, GP MBBS BSc MRCGP
As mothers, we rely on our instinct a lot of the time when caring for our babies. However, being well informed can make us feel more confident in our decision making. As a GP, one of the things I often see is parents worried about their baby’s weight or development. So how do you know if your baby is ok and is, in fact, thriving?
Weight gain in the first few weeks & weight monitoring
One of the more obvious markers of baby wellness is weight. Babies are weighed soon after birth, then their weight is monitored by health visitors and also by your GP at the 6-week check. The weights are plotted on a chart in the ‘red book’ and this helps give healthcare professionals an idea of whether your baby’s weight is increasing as it should. There are a couple of things worth noting about this. For example, it doesn’t matter if your friend’s baby is on the 75th centile for weight (one of the higher curved lines) and yours is on the 25th (one of the lower curved lines) as long as your baby is approximately following their centile. It’s about trends in your baby’s weight over time as opposed to comparing your baby to others. Something you can watch out for yourself at home is whether your baby is going up nappy and clothes sizes; I know I’ve always found this useful!
Feeding & Cluster Feeding
Clearly to gain weight a baby needs to be feeding well. It’s worth noting that there can be quite a variation in how often and how long a baby feeds, particularly in breastfed babies and especially when babies are very little. Something that often surprises new mothers is cluster feeding (feeding often in bursts). Cluster feeding at this point is totally normal! It doesn’t mean your body isn’t producing enough milk for your baby. What is more helpful to look at is whether you and your baby are comfortable during feeds, whether your little one is wetting their nappies a few times a day (this shows they’re hydrated) and their weight gain over time, as mentioned above.
Another sign of whether a baby is thriving is whether they’re reaching their developmental milestones, such as holding their head up, sitting, crawling, walking and talking. However, there is a huge variation in when babies do all of this so it’s not worth being anxious about it unless your baby seems very obviously behind their peers. It doesn’t mean there’s necessarily anything wrong if your baby is late in reaching a milestone, sometimes they just need a little help learning that skill and catch up with no problem. If you are worried your baby isn’t reaching their milestones it’s worth sharing your concerns with your health visitor or GP. A few early signs that might indicate that you do need to discuss your baby’s development with your GP include your baby feeling limp/floppy or overly stiff, not ‘jumping’ to loud noises, not vocalising after a couple of months and not following you with their eyes after a few months.
Ultimately your instinct plays a huge role as a parent. If you think your child is not gaining weight, not reaching milestones, is lacking in energy over a prolonged period or that something just isn’t quite right with your baby please don’t worry alone: seek advice from your health visitor or GP.
Dr Laura Stewart, GP MBBS BSc MRCGP
Dr Laura Stewart studied at University College London before going on to work as a junior doctor in various hospitals in and around North London. It was during this time that she completed her obstetrics and gynaecology rotation and her placement in paediatrics where she developed her interest in maternal and child health.
Dr Stewart completed her 11 years of GP training working in a diverse inner-city GP practice. Since qualifying as a GP, she locumed at first to gain experience of working in a variety of GP surgeries followed by taking up a permanent post in a busy North London practice.
Dr Stewart is currently on maternity leave and is absolutely loving looking after her 7-month-old daughter. Her personal experience of pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenthood has only served to further her skills as a GP.