The ups and downs of having a small baby

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 Photo: Getty Images

Size isn't everything, they say. I totally agree, but there's no escaping that a baby's size is a common starting point for discussion – as well as opinion.

My first baby was born on the tiny side of small, weighing only 3 pounds (1.4kg). This was small even considering that she was 5 weeks premature. From there her growth was steady, but she remained 'below-the-charts' for height and weight for the rest of her infancy.

My daughter is now at school and, though still small, is less obviously so. This gives me the beauty of hindsight to reflect on the positives and negatives of having a small baby. Luckily, the ups outweigh the downs.

The good side: It's easy on your back

Parenting a baby is a physical challenge. Lifting, holding, carrying and pacing all take their toll, especially on a body that has been stretched and strained by pregnancy and childbirth. Having a big baby not only can increase the risk of injury during childbirth, but it makes every lift and carry more taxing. (link to: http://www.essentialbaby.com.au/life-style/nutrition-and-wellbeing/the-birth-injuries-no-one-talks-about-20151021-gkeh4e.html)

My baby didn't reach the average birth weight of 3.4kg until she was nearly 3 months old, which meant I had more recovery time before she became a considerable weight. This was particularly fortunate for me, as I am also small, not well-known for my strength, and needed my own recovery after her difficult birth.

Another good side: It's easy on the wallet

Apart from having to buy unexpected 00000 or 000000 clothes at birth, having a small baby means you spend far less on clothes. Some babies grow out of their birth-bought clothes by the time they leave hospital, and then move through sizes at a rate that is scary for the credit card balance.

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Once shoes are involved, having a small bub even more beneficial. My daughter was able to wear shoes for up to a year before growing out of them. More than once I had to be assertive in shoe shops when assistants would (reasonably) be concerned that I was buying shoes without enough growing room.

Yet another good point: Small can be super cute

Kids are always cute when they start walking or talking, but when an infant looks much younger than they actually are, people are seriously impressed by their skills!

Although my daughter was actually slow at reaching milestones, she looked like she was a child prodigy. She was 18 months old by the time she took her first steps, but as she looked more like a 9-month-old, I had strangers literally applauding her on the street as she toddled her way along.

The not so great side

There's nothing more worrying than the possibility that your baby is not well or thriving. Having a small baby prompts you to question whether they are feeding well enough. Others will also be concerned – and many will not hesitate to tell you.

Maternal health nurses, who should know better, tried to convince me to change my feeding routine just because my baby was 'below average'. Strangers gave me all sorts of opinions and advice. At the best of times, this was wearing. At the worst of times, it fed into my own insecurities and led me to question everything I was doing.

Going back to my statistics training helped me immensely. I remembered that very few people are of exact average height or weight, and that, by definition, 50 per cent of people are below average.

I also realised that how she was 'tracking' was more important than where she sat on the chart at any one time – that is, as long as she continued to grow (even if slowly), it was fine for her to continue being 'below the chart'. In fact, suddenly shooting up the charts would be more of a cause for concern.

And then there's ...

All parents quickly get used to repeating the same conversation to whoever expresses an interest in your bundle of joy – acquaintances, shopkeepers, and strangers. The conversation usually goes like this: 'What a beautiful baby, what's her name? How old is she?'.

Then, when you answer an age that doesn't obviously fit with your baby's size, the conversation then continues along the lines of: 'Really? She doesn't look big enough to be (insert age), is she okay?' But the one I love best is when they ask: 'Are you sure?' Yes, I do remember my child's birthday, thank you. This conversation is even more likely if your child is small for their age due to being born prematurely.

When my daughter was heading towards her first birthday, I was growing tired of these conversations, so I started blithely telling strangers an age a good couple of months younger than she was. This worked well except for when I would get sprung by the stranger – or when later she would start walking or talking in front of them!

Of course, size doesn't matter when it comes to how much you love your baby. Or, as they grow (which even the tiniest baby will do in time), how much they love you.