Early infant growth monitoring--time well spent?

Ross A, English M
Trop Med Int Health. 2005;10

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BACKGROUND: In sub-Saharan Africa, growth monitoring for every infant consumes time and resources with no evidence of any benefits. We consider an alternative pragmatic approach which provides scheduled monitoring for low birth weight infants only, and takes advantage of non-routine clinic visits for normal birth weight infants. We investigate the implications for the number of weighing episodes and performance as a screening tool using data from a cohort study of infants followed-up from birth to 98 days. METHODS: Babies delivered in a Kenyan district hospital and enrolled in a birth cohort were weighed at birth and at follow-up visits coinciding with their immunizations at 6, 10 and 14 weeks. Episodes of illness resulting in clinic visits, hospital admissions or death were identified and recorded. RESULTS: Four-fifths (81%) of the 2210 babies weighed 2500 g or more at birth, of whom 133 (7%) were admitted to hospital or died before 14 weeks of age. 85% of the deaths and 67% of admissions occurred within 3 weeks of birth. Most babies weighing 2500 g or more and who had weight measurements grew well. Only 4% of infants were exclusively breastfed at 14 weeks of age. Neither universal nor pragmatic growth monitoring was a good screening tool among this group of infants for episodes of illness in the short-term. Pragmatic monitoring would involve 72% fewer weighing episodes. CONCLUSIONS: A pragmatic approach in early infancy would not represent a major change in policy, would appear to have no disadvantages and would probably increase the time available for implementing interventions of greater benefit such as breastfeeding promotion.