Background: Growth charts and child growth assessment have become prime global instruments in child health practice over the 30 years. An updated, continuous growth standard that bridges size at birth values with postnatal growth values can improve child growth screening and monitoring.
Methods: This novel growth chart was constructed from two sources of information. Size at birth (weight, length and head circumference) reference values were updated based on information of normal deliveries (i.e. singleton live births without severe congenital malformation, with healthy mothers and born vaginally) from the Swedish Medical Birth Registry, 1990-1999 (n = 810393). Weight was evaluated using logarithmic transformation as for postnatal weight. Standard deviations were estimated from data within the empirical mean +/- 1.0 SD for each gestational week and gender. These values were smoothed by empirical curve-fitting together with values from our recently published postnatal growth reference including 3650 longitudinally followed children from birth to final height 9. Timescale and weight axes were made logarithmic in order to magnify the early time part of the graph.
Results: This study presents the first continuous gender specific growth chart from birth irrespective of gestational age at birth until 2 years of age for weight, length and head circumference. Birth weight at 40 weeks of gestation increased approximately 100 gram and length increased only 1 mm compared with earlier Swedish reference from 1977-81. The curve is now less S-shaped as compared with earlier curves and compared with 4 curves from other countries and with more constant variation over the whole range.
Conclusion: Our values picture the unrestricted pattern of growth improving the detection of a deviating growth pattern, when the growth of an individual infant is plotted on the charts. Especially for very preterm infants age corrected growth can be more easily evaluated although it must be recognized that the early comparison is with what is estimated as normal growth in uterus. The reference values are useful in child health care systems for population screening, but also in research or in the clinic for evaluating various growth promoting interventions - either nutritional, surgical or therapeutic - that might affect a child in early life.