How to Measure Your Children’s Height at Home

Children's Nutrition

How to Measure Your Children’s Height at Home

Learning how to measure height at home allows you to stay on track with your child’s growth and development between appointments, which can be 6 months to one full year apart. Taking a child’s weight is relatively easy if you have a scale at home, but measuring height requires a little more technique. Also, you want to be sure you get an accurate measurement so you can monitor your child’s growth and identify any problems if they come up. Here are some of our best tips for measuring children’s height at home and some advice on how to determine if they are growing properly.

Why Measure Children’s Height?

Knowing you child’s height and weight are just two variables that can help you determine if they are growing properly. Weight is easy to measure, any bathroom scale can give you a relatively accurate weight and it is easy to track. But, height is a little more difficult to measure because it does take a little bit of skill and preparation. But, for children with a shorter stature or who may not be growing as quickly as their peers, measuring height at regular intervals is important.

Tracking individual growth patterns is just one reason to measure a child’s height, knowing how tall your child is allows you to assess height for age to see how they compare to other children. This comparison can help quickly identify any issues with growth before they become permanent.

Also, having an accurate height and weight measurement for your child helps determine their body mass index (BMI), another variable in assessing a child’s growth. The BMI is a calculation that compares weight to height, so you can determine if their height is appropriate for their weight. All of these measurements together can help identify any problems with growth, malnutrition, or overnutrition before they become more severe.

The Growth Chart

Once the height and weight is measured, it is usually compared to a standardized growth chart. If your child is under the age of two, it is recommended to track growth on the World Health Organization growth chart. Once they are over two years old the growth chart by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is usually used to track their growth. These charts based on the average weight of children of a certain sex and age, help a doctor determine where your child’s growth lies compared to others. If a child falls significantly above or below others their age, this may indicate a problem.

Once the child’s weight and height is plotted along the chart, the pediatrician will usually tell you what percentile your child falls into. For example, if your child is in the 50th percentile for height, this means that 50% of children that same age are taller than them and 50% are shorter.

Children tend to follow their own growth curve, so if they are in the 50th percentile, they tend to continue to grow along the 50th percentile curve. As long as they are remaining at their own percentile and not dropping to a lower one, they are growing properly. There is no need to worry about where the child falls within these percentiles, even if your child is at the lower end. A healthy height and weight can vary significantly based on genetics, family history, and lifestyle choices, so even a child in the 5th percentile is still considered healthy.

How to Accurately Measure Children’s Height at Home

If you want to measure you child’s height at home, this will first depend on whether or not the child can stand up on their own up against a wall so you can get an accurate measurement. With infants who cannot stand or crazy toddlers who won’t stand still, taking their height while they are laying down may be easier. So, first you need to assess the child’s ability to stand up straight.

Measuring the height of a standing child

If your child is able to stand up, here is how you will get the most accurate weight when measuring height at home:

1. The first step is to remove any article of clothing or accessory that may interfere with an accurate height. Remove shoes, bulky clothes, or hair accessories. Make sure their hairstyle does not interfere with the measurements, such as a braid or a high ponytail.

2. Make sure to take the measurement on a flat surface that is not carpeted. Also, use a wall with no molding, so they can get their heels as close to the wall as possible.

3. Have the child stand up against the wall with their feet flat and together. The child’s head, shoulders, buttocks, and heels should be making contact with the wall. Make sure their legs are straight and shoulders are level. They should be looking straight ahead with their chin parallel to the floor.

4. For the next part you will need a headpiece, some type of flat cardboard or thin piece of wood you can place level on the child’s head. Put the headpiece on top of the child’s head and to form a right angle with the wall. Move the headpiece down until it is firmly placed against the top of the child’s head.

5. Keep your eyes level with the headpiece while taking the measurement and mark with a pencil where the bottom of the headpiece meets the wall.

6. Have the child step away from the wall and use a metal tape measure to measure from the floor to the marked area on the wall.

7. Be sure to record the height and keep a log of dates and height measurements if you are trying to track their progress.

Measuring a Child’s Height Laying Down

If your child is unable to stand, you will not be able to get a standing height and will have to measure them while laying down. Most doctor’s offices have special equipment, called a length board, used to take a recumbent length for infants and children who cannot stand up. This type of equipment is placed on a flat surface and has a moveable head or footboard, as well as markings to help determine the length. But, you likely don’t have this type of equipment at home, you can still get an accurate length if you enlist a little help.

1. A squirming baby or toddler can be less than cooperative when you are trying to measure their length at home. So, first you will want to ask a family member or a friend for help.

2. Lay your baby down on a flat surface, like a changing table or on your bed.

3. Ask your partner to help gently stretch out the baby’s leg to get a more accurate measurement.

4. Use a flexible measuring tape to measure the baby from the top of the head to the bottom of the heel.

If the baby moves around too much, you can also use a sheet of paper to help get a more accurate measurement. Place the baby on top of the paper and make a mark where the head is and at the bottom of the heel. Then move the baby and measure the length between the two markings you made.

With a squirmy infant or one who will not straighten his or her leg completely, an accurate height may be difficult to measure. Consider taking the measurement twice and getting an average length between the two. Just do the best you can because the purpose of measuring your child’s height is not to get the exact precise height, but instead to get a measurement you can use for comparison in the future.

Keeping Records

Keeping height and weight records are important to help identify any problematic growth patterns. They can also be taken to doctor’s appointments to help the doctor better assess the child’s growth.

Be sure to write down the measurement as soon as it is taken, so you don’t forget to write down the number. Keep track of the date the measurement was taken. You can also add notes about your child’s behavior, health, eating patterns, or anything else that might be impacting their growth that might be helpful for their next doctor’s appointment.

Compare to Growth Charts

After taking and recording your child’s height, you may want to compare the measurement to the standardized growth chart. Be sure to use the correct chart for your child as there are different charts for premature babies and for children with chromosomal disorders.

In comparing your child’s growth, the important thing is consistent growth over time, not whether your child is at the highest or lowest percentile. If your child is consistently at the 5th percentile, that is considered healthy growth. One measurement will not tell you the whole story, the child’s growth needs to be evaluated over a period of time.

The only issue with plotting your child’s growth at home is that some of these charts can be confusing if you are not sure how to use them correctly. There are some websites that will plot the numbers for you, and tell you the percentile the measurement falls into, so you can more easily see where your child lies along the curve. If you don’t know how to interpret the growth chart, let the doctor do it for you to reduce confusion and stress. At home, you can just take measurements at regular intervals to be sure your child is growing consistently.

When to See a Doctor

If you are regularly tracking growth, when do you know if there is a problem? First, it is important it understand that height is just one variable your doctor will use to determine if your child is growing properly. Weight and head circumference can also be used to help assess growth. Children do grow at different rates, so the doctor will take growth patterns, genetics, and any medical conditions into account also. The pediatrician may also assess how well the child is hitting their developmental milestones, like sitting, talking, or walking. All of these variables together will help the doctor assess the child’s growth.

If you are tracking your child’s growth with a growth chart, you should see a doctor if the measurement crosses two percentile lines, either up or down. This means if your child has consistently been in the 25th percentile, but drops to the 23rd, then you may want to call the doctor. Inconsistent growth may also be a sign of a problem, particularly if your child is an infant. Most infants grow rapidly and at a steady rate after birth. If there is no growth for three months in a row during the first year of life, contact your child’s doctor to help rule out inadequate nutrition or illness. You should also consult the doctor if you notice any developmental delays. 

A word of caution about development in children, there can be a very large range in what is considered “normal”. Some children reach milestones early, whereas others lag behind a bit. A list of developmental milestones put together by the CDC can be found here so you can identify when certain milestones should be achieved on average. If you are concerned ask the pediatrician about milestones, but don’t jump to conclusions if you see a child of the same age doing things at a different rate.

How Often Should You Measure Children’s Height?

Now that you know how to measure your child’s height, how often should you be doing it? Height is slower to change than weight, so it does not need to be measured quite as often. If your child does not have any major problems with growth, height can be measured every six to twelve months. If there is a problem with growth, ask the child’s pediatrician how often you should be measuring their height. But, remember height is only one variable of many for determining appropriate growth and needs to be assessed in combination with other factors too.

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