Tommy's PregnancyHub

Understanding your premature baby’s charts in hospital

Your baby’s growth is an important sign of their health. Your health professionals will use growth charts to plot and measure your child’s growth from birth.

What is being monitored and why?

Your baby’s weight 

Steady weight gain can reassure you that feeding is going well, and that your baby is generally healthy. 

Your baby’s head circumference 

This will also be measured regularly. Head growth that is too fast, or too slow, can be a sign of certain medical or developmental problems.       

Oxygen saturation

You may hear health professionals talking about oxygen saturation. This refers to the amount of oxygen in your baby’s bloodstream. The body needs a specific amount of oxygen in the blood to function properly. The amount your baby needs will depend on their specific condition and age. Your healthcare team will monitor this closely.

The nurses and doctors will use an oxygen saturation monitor to measure the amount of oxygen in your baby's blood. The monitor is attached by a long, thin wire to a sensor that is wrapped around your baby’s hand or foot. Many premature babies need help with their breathing for a while.

Find out more about your baby’s breathing in hospital.

Your baby’s nutritional intake

Premature babies need more nutrients than full-term babies, so feeding (nutrition) is important.  Your baby’s digestive system (gut) and ability to suckle may not be fully developed so they will need some help to feed. The type of help they will need depends on how early your baby is born and how well they are. 

Find out more about your baby’s nutrition in hospital.

How your baby’s growth is monitored 

Your baby’s weight and head circumference will be recorded after they are born and monitored closely on the baby unit. These will be recorded on growth charts.      

The lines on your baby’s growth charts are called centile lines. These show the average weight and head circumferences for babies of different ages. 

Weights and head circumferences that are anywhere within the centile lines are considered normal. Your baby's weight and head circumference may not follow a centile line exactly. Their measurements may go up or down by 1 centile line, but it's less common for them to cross 2 centile lines.

Every child is different, so no two filled-in charts will look the same. Even twins may have different growth patterns.

What happens if my baby’s weight is going down?

This can happen for a variety of reasons and can be quite normal initially. Your healthcare team will continually monitor and address any weight concerns. 

European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (2018) Nutrition: overview. https://newborn-health-standards.org/standards/nutrition/overview/ 

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. (2009) Understanding growth charts: what they tell you about your child’s growth. https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Fact_Sheet_for_Parents.pdf