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Why I Won’t Fixate On My Babies’ Percentiles

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Ever since giving birth to twins, I’ve been blessed with an outpouring of support. It seems like everyone from my closest friends to random acquaintances want to know how I’m feeling, how the babies are doing, and how my 3-year-old is adjusting to his little sisters. But there have also been a lot of questions about the birth of my daughters (I think people really are just fascinated with twins), from, “How long were they in the hospital?” (code for “Did you have a C-section?) to the ever-dreaded “What percentile are they in weight?” The latter, I’m sure, is meant as an innocuous inquiry, and in fact isn’t even all that invasive in the grand scheme of what people could be (and, ahem, have been) asking. But it’s a question that drives me a bit crazy nonetheless.

I truly don’t get the fixation with percentiles, yet it’s a question I’ve gotten used to, as so many people (mostly fellow parents) have asked it over the past three years with regard to my son. “So what percentile is he for weight?” or “He seems tall—he must be in the 80th or 90th percentile for height, no?”

I understand there’s a need to medically define healthy ranges for infants and children when talking about things like height and weight, and I realize that it’s perfectly appropriate to discuss your child’s relative progress with a healthcare professional such as a pediatrician. But I’m kind of tired of talking percentiles with fellow parents, or other curious parties who aren’t involved in my children’s medical care.

One thing that bugs me about “percentile speak” is that it perpetuates the need to constantly compare our children to others. I’m not saying that’s not a normal, natural thing to do, but I’ve seen parents get way too hung up on statistics, so much so they become obsessed over numbers on a chart rather than their children’s wellbeing. And trust me, I’m not just pointing fingers–I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of pushing my son to meet certain milestones, because I got the idea in my head that he was too far behind for his own good. (In fact, I wrote about it here.)

Thankfully I’ve learned from my mistakes. And it’s a good thing, because had I not made a conscious effort to change my attitude toward percentiles and comparisons, I’d be in pretty bad shape right about now. The smaller of my twin daughters was born at only 4 pounds, 7 ounces, and she left the hospital at barely over 4 pounds. Her sister, by comparison, left the hospital over a full pound heavier. At our one-week checkup, my “big” baby barely grazed the 5th percentile mark, and my “little” baby, as the doc put it, wasn’t even close to being on the charts. “But,” she said, “I’d ignore the charts if I were you. Just focus on your babies. That’s your personal big picture.”

Three years ago, I probably would’ve obsessed over those charts, but today, I’m following our pediatrician’s fantastically wise advice. I’m spending my days nourishing my babies to the best of my ability. I’m focusing on things like feeding cues and the way their clothing fits, not statistics or numbers. Rather than sit around googling “underweight infants,” I’m doing everything I can to help them gain strength and grow. And I have to say, I’m a much happier parent for it.

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