What did the royal baby really weigh?

One of the most infuriating practices of the British media is to translate the proper medical data recorded by the hospital (in  kilograms, naturally) into the obsolete units that were once used by our grandparents or great-grandparents.  Thus, our future head of state is described as weighing in at “8lbs 6oz”.  So how much is that, and is it a lot or a little?

The National Health Service is supposed to work entirely in metric units.  This principle was reinforced in an exchange in the House of Lords some years ago, when Baroness Thornton assured her questioner, Lord Walton of Detchant, that in order to prevent possibly catastrophic accidents over wrong dosage, the rules requiring metric-only scales were to be strengthened. See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldhansrd/text/100225-0001.htm#10022584000562.  (The point is that drugs are prescribed in milligrams and relate to body mass in kilograms.  Any additional conversions from or to imperial units would introduce a source of error and are therefore strictly forbidden).

My own son was born at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in 1975, and I still have the ticket that was attached to his cot and cross-referenced to his wrist band (obviously to prevent babies being presented to the wrong parents).  This is illustrated below (I have redacted his mother’s name).

It can be seen that his weight was given as 3.92 kg – no mention of pounds or ounces.  That was nearly 40 years ago.  Yet still the British media* dumb down this information and translate it into units that are not used in other walks of life (give or take the odd street market trader).  It is as if there is an unspoken conspiracy of the media to prevent British people from progressing into the 21st century.

So what is the answer to the headline question?

8lbs 6oz can be converted (somewhat laboriously) to approximately 3.8 kg.  We cannot be more precise (a) because an ounce is about 28 g, so rounding to the nearest ounce gives a range of 3.786 to 3.814 g; and (b) the imperial figure is itself a conversion from the original metric data, and converting backwards and forwards and then rounding to the nearest whole number inevitably results in loss of precision (and accuracy).

An average newborn baby weighs about 3.4 kg (though the “normal” range is from 2.5 to 4.6 kg).  So the royal baby (like my son) was above average weight at birth, but well within the “normal” range.

_____________________________________________________________

*To be fair, the media got their information from the public relations department of the hospital, who in turn issue the information in lbs and oz (presumably because they think this is what the media want).  I actually telephoned the St Mary’s Hospital press office to ask for the birth weight in kilograms, but the respondent was clueless, suggesting that I could convert from the imperial amount, adding that they were unable to release medical information on individual patients.

[Actually, if the last statement is true, then the information may have come from the Palace PR department, in which case the same strictures apply to them. – Erithacus]

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41 Responses to What did the royal baby really weigh?

  1. jeff mansfield says:

    We could also weigh the amount of b*llsh*t generated by the media over this baby, in tonnes of course.

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  2. philh says:

    Editors are naturally concerned about retaining audiences but if the industry were to get together and reach an agreement I believe they could make life easier for themselves and everyone else by moving things on.

    They could take the line that it is their primary responsibility to report information as accurately as possible, in this case by quoting the true weight in kg according to the device actually used. If individual members of the public wish to convert to lb, oz then that is up to them and they will be responsible for any errors due to conversion.

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  3. DB says:

    According to reports I heard last night, the announcement was expected to be displayed on a sheet of "foolscap" paper. (e.g. http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/115621/how-the-world-will-learn-about-royal-babys-birth) I haven't heard of that paper size since I was a child. If they can't even modernise the royal headed notepaper, I think we're being a bit optimistic expecting them to use the same units of weight as the rest of the world. It seems that that palace has made no progress towards internationalisation during the reign of this child's great grandmother.

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  4. John Frewen-Lord says:

    Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are felt to represent the new modern image of the Royal Family in the 21st century. What a pity therefore that the weight of their new baby had to be reported in 19th century measurement units. Such a wasted opportunity to help strengthen the relevancy of the Monarchy in today's somewhat apathetic age.

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  5. BrianAC says:

    Here is the report from "Euro News" channel. Mostly a breath of fresh air.

    "... A town crier announces the royal birth outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital after Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a baby boy in central London July 22, 2013. Prince William’s wife Kate gave birth on Monday to a baby boy, in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, who becomes third in line to the British throne. The royal baby, the couple’s first child, was born at 4:24 pm, weighing 3.8 kg."

    Their usual message follows: -
    At euronews we believe in the intelligence of our viewers and we think that the mission of a news channel is to deliver facts without any opinion or bias, so that the viewers can form their own opinion on world events.

    Opinions can be formed, but that weight is too vague to be the original, I would think.

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  6. derekp says:

    Here is the link to the site which may be responsible for this latest example going back to the future:

    http://www.dukeandduchessofcambridge.org/news-and-diary/the-duchess-of-cambridge-has-been-delivered-of-son

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  7. John E E Fleming says:

    I sighed when I heard that our, possibly, future king weighed "8 pounds 6 ounces" - perhaps when he is King we will still be subject to this harking back to the outdated Imperial units!
    I worked in a maternity hospital for over 40 years as a Research Technologist. One of my interests was the estimation of fetal weight from measurements of ultrasound images. I cannot recall hearing any of my medical or nursing colleagues using pounds and ounces.
    And also-
    Frequently the BBC make do unnecessary conversions when reporting information originating from Europe, for example " … the depth of snow in Switzerland was 12 feet".

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  8. Martin Clutterbuck says:

    What a perfect opportunity this would have been for a 'modern couple' to at least start the process of describing babies weights in kilograms, even if that also meant converting the figure to imperial for parents, grandparents and the media.

    So much for Will and Kate being in touch with the 21st century. Perhaps it was the heavy-hand of tradition taking control.

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  9. Northstar says:

    About a week ago I wrote to my newspaper (the supposedly progressive Guardian), requesting that they break with tradition - and annoy the Daily Mail at the same time - by reporting the baby's weight in kilograms. Alas, my plea went unheard, as the Grauniad printed it in imperial like everyone else. This is quite unusual, as the Guardian is about the only national daily that normally uses metric measurements by default. Disappointing.

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  10. Northstar says:

    Looking through the world's newspapers (using the excellent onlinenewspapers.com site), most reported the baby's weight in a surprising variety of ways: overwhelmingly metric, but in imperial only in the Irish Times, in metric (imperial in brackets) in Italy's Corriere della Sera, in imperial (metric in brackets) in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, in metric only in Le Monde, and an improbably plump 3798 kg in Germany's Bild...

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  11. Philip says:

    In October 2011 a written request was made to the Queen’s Private Secretary for all future press releases which give a baby’s weight to be in metric units.

    It was respectfully pointed out that “this country’s legal system of measurement is metric and a baby’s weight is recorded in kilograms”. And “it must also be remembered that all Commonwealth countries are metric”.

    The reply received in January 2012, indicated that a careful note of the comments had been made.

    In April 2013 another letter was sent, specifically asking for the press release announcing the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby’s weight to be in kilograms and not pounds. Emphasizing again that news presented in this way would be welcomed by the majority in the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.

    This year’s letter also requested the Royal Highnesses Prince William and Princess Catherine should be consulted on this matter; it was sincerely hoped the happy couple would agree that the birth weight should be announced using metric units.

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  12. Michael Glass says:

    I also wrote to the Palace last December, asking that the baby's weight be given in metric measures and also received a letter saying that "careful note" had been made of my suggestion. It must be their way of fobbing people off.

    A Google search of "Royal baby + kg" reveals some interesting anomalies:

    News.com.au informs me that "He weighs 8lbs 6oz or 3800 grams (3.74kg)"

    http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/quick-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-royal-baby/story-fnisprwn-1226683621311#ixzz2Zv4x42yT

    Sky News informs me "8lb 6oz (3.798kg)" http://news.sky.com/story/1119013/royal-baby-boy-world-awaits-first-glimpse

    An article in the Sydney Morning Herald gives the weight as "3.8kg" http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/royal-baby-by-numbers-who-are-you-calling-average-20130723-2qfq7.html

    The South African mail quotes the palace as saying

    "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4.24pm, Kensington Palace said in a statement just over four hours after she gave birth."

    "The baby weighs 3.8kg. The Duke of Cambridge was present for the birth."
    http://mg.co.za/article/2013-07-23-royal-baby-is-here-its-a-boy

    Meanwhile, the Voice of Russia says: " The announcement said the baby weighed 8 pounds and 6 ounces (about 3.5 kg)"
    http://english.ruvr.ru/news/2013_07_23/World-hails-birth-of-Britains-royal-baby-1564/

    So 8 pounds 6 ounces equals about
    3.5kg
    3.74kg
    3.798kg
    3.8kg
    depending, of course, on your source.
    Meanwhile Google says the conversion is 3.79884kg.

    Take your pick.

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  13. Ray says:

    Could someone please explain this statement from the Herald Sun of Australia?

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/quick-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-royal-baby/story-fni0b8dw-1226683621311

    "2. He weighs 8lbs 6oz or 3800 grams (3.74kg), which makes him heaviest royal baby in 100 years according to royal historians. Revealing the weight of royal babies is a relatively new phenomenon, believed to have started with the birth of Prince Charles who weighed 7lbs 8oz (3.4kg) back in 1948."

    First they state the imperial as was reported by the hospital. Then they have the standard conversion of 3800 g. But, what is the 3.74 kg in parenthesis? Was the 3.74 kg the actual baby's mass as recorded by the hospital and the imperial and the back converted metric are both wrong?

    They also could have announced his birth as occurring at 16:24 h instead of the am/pm nonsense, which to me is just as obsolete as imperial.

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  14. BrianAC says:

    Given that link by Ray, if you google 'royal baby 3.74kg' more interesting results come up, it seems the Australian press have the most believable figures, why else would thay have rounded it down?
    "The royal baby weighed-in at 3.74kg, making him the heaviest royal baby to be born in 100 years"
    My guess is that that is the real weight leaked from somewhere within the hospital, but don't tell anyone.
    The saddest part about this is that it has put the UK metrication clock back at least 40 years and from now on all can say "if it is good enough for the new prince it is good enough for me".
    A very sad day for the UK.

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  15. John Steele says:

    Note that 3.74 kg is slightly less than, but rounds to, 8 lb 4 oz. If the 3.74 kg mass were correct, then someone is incorrect about 8 lb 6 0z. Many of the Australian articles reference BOTH 3800 g and 3.74 kg, which obviously reflects either a mistake or poor understanding of the metric system (or both, to not correct it).

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  16. Han Maenen says:

    One of the imperial ' traditions' that is still alive and kicking in Ireland is to use ounces, pounds and stones for body weight (correct: mass). That seems to be one of the major obstacles on the road to full metrication. In all the newspapers I read in Ireland, the Irish ones and the Irish versions of British papers the weight of the baby was stated as 8 lb 6 oz without metric conversion.

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  17. philh says:

    As someone with republican views (oops there goes my knighthood) I have to say I am not really interested in the weight if this baby in kg or anything else.

    However, for those of you that are might I suggest that you try writing to the palace and asking if they would indicate to you the weight of young George in kg as it was recorded on hospital records.

    In anticipation of them merely re-iterating the already published figure and suggesting you work it out for yourself you will need to explain that it is not as simple as that because the original value would have been to the nearest 10 g, which is less than half an oz, so rounding to the nearest oz on conversion would have created a range of uncertainty. Hence converting back again will magnify it further.

    You might also garner sympathy for your request by pointing out the muddle that has arisen in international press reports as a result of the original statement.

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  18. Jake says:

    I followed the news on BBC World as I was in Bavaria on the day of the birth. The reporter I saw announced the birth to the world in pounds and ounces! I wonder who could make sense of those antiquated units of measurement. I wonder what impression that gives viewers around the world of the UK (and the BBC). A country that cannot even give the birth weight of a child in the metric measurements used by virtually the whole world.

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  19. wilfred says:

    So it looks as if Michael Glass and Philip were fobbed off with bland replies. Would it not have been better if those responding to letters at the Palace had written more candidly?

    They could have said, for example, “Of course, the monarchy was essentially French for several centuries after the Norman invasion, and occasionally still uses Norman French. But nowadays we don’t want to be associated in the public mind with the French, and that includes their measurement system.”

    Or, “The monarchy owes many of its traditions to medieval times, and we think therefore that we should encourage the use of medieval measurements.”

    Or, “Despite that unfortunate business in 1776, we still want to stay on good terms with the Americans, and their pounds and ounces are the same as ours.”

    Or, “Mention metric measures and many people think of Europe, which we wish to keep at arms length.”

    Or, “Last time we went shopping in a supermarket they were using pounds and ounces. Isn’t that still the case?”

    Or, “The British Empire is long gone, but we can perpetuate its memory by using its measurement system.”

    Or, “There are some very nice people in those Commonwealth countries that have gone over to the metric system, and we would like to be nice to them. But their views don’t really matter as they will never be in a position to storm the Palace.”

    So, what lessons do I learn from this sorry story?

    1. Keep writing to public authorities. They may ignore my views, but they can’t say they were not aware of them.
    2. Be sceptical when dealing with replies.

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  20. John Steele says:

    @Wilfred,

    I recognize that is meant to be entirely humorous. However, considering your third and last point, would they really be more interested in getting along with Americans than with citizens of the Commonwealth? That seems "misplaced."

    (In our defense, we are used to everything being labeled in dual; we could certainly handle that. I am somewhat more concerned by the Australian media assertion that 3.74 kg = 3800 g, than by the pounds and ounces.)

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  21. Han Maenen says:

    There is also a story in some Irish newspapers about a very obese man who tries to get an adapted place to live as he can not climb stairs anymore. He is obese because of an illness, not because of an unhealthy life style. The newspapers I read state his weight as 42 stones and his height as 6' 2''. 42 stones is 266.70 kg, rounded up 267 kg and his height is about 1.86 m. At least they all use degrees Celsius and have not reverted to Fahrenheit during the recent hot spell. In general the use of units of measurement by Irish newspapers is very mixed, difficult to fathom (!!).

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  22. BrianAC says:

    I hear the use of stones for other than body weight being used more on BBC TV these days, it was a pile of potatoes last night. I personally have never understood and thus never used stones, likewise miles per gallon. That weight of 42 stone means nothing, absolutely nothing to me.
    This leaves me a bit out in the cold, living in my own country yet not understanding the language most people are using.
    I know I am not the brightest but often wonder about all the others.

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  23. John Harvey says:

    Does anyone know the accuracy of the baby scales used in the Lindo Wing? It would be surprising if the weights and measures boys have ever been in there. And what would be the point of super-accurate scales used for this purpose? After all, the weights of babies measured on these scales will only be compared to those of other babies measured on scales elsewhere.

    Why don't we just use two significant figures and say that Prince George weighed 3.8 kg at birth? If there is a case for more numbers than this, perhaps it can be made in a further response on this post.

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  24. Mary says:

    This is still the latest press release on the Buckingham Palace website:
    ++++++++++++++
    Zara Tindall pregnancy announcement, 8 July 2013
    THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT IS ISSUED BY THE PRESS SECRETARY TO THE QUEEN
    Mr and Mrs Mike Tindall are very pleased to announce that Zara Tindall is expecting a baby in the New Year.
    The Princess Royal and Captain Mark Phillips, Mr Phillip and Mrs Linda Tindall, and members of both families are delighted with the news.
    This baby will be the first child for Mike and Zara and the third grandchild for The Princess Royal.
    http://www.royal.gov.uk/LatestNewsandDiary/Pressreleases/2013/ZaraTindallpregnancyannouncement8July2013.aspx
    ++++++++++++++++++
    Many months for people to write and request [again] that if the birth weight is given it should be in metric units.

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  25. Ray says:

    As in the past, writing to these people to use metric will get ignored. I feel if you are going to write, ask them to include the official mass (or weight to those who don't know what mass is) as read from the hospital balance [scale] and recorded in the official record of the hospital.

    This would be in addition to the pounds and ounces they will insist on giving out. At least if they include metric, we will have the true value and the majority of the world won't have to depend on five different conversions to one number as with the present baby and wonder what is the real correct value.

    The important thing to remember is to ask them just to include what is read on the balance [scale] and recorded in the official record of the hospital.

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  26. johnf says:

    We think of the Australians as being totally metric. But not, it seems, when talking about babies' weights at birth. This is a Facebook post from one of the many cousins, and other relatives I have in that country:

    We are excited to welcome Ruby Nathalia XXXXXX-XXXX! Born Thursday 9/1/14 11:25pm. 7 pounds and 50cm long. Everyone doing well. Very excited!

    I have to say, I do find the reporting of the birth weight in pounds (which will surely be a conversion from kg) rather disappointing, especially as Aussies use metric for virtually everything else.

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  27. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @johnf .... can you query your relatives to get their take on why babies' weight (mass) is given in pounds instead of grams and let us know what you find out? I am most interested.

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  28. Michael Glass says:

    John, it would depend on the couple making the announcement. If you look at the Sydney Morning Herald birth announcements you will find that baby weights are frequently given in grams or kilos. See http://celebrations.smh.com.au/celebration/smh-au/celebrations-search.aspx?daterange=99999&announcementtype=16

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  29. Leo says:

    johnf, are you sure this is not a metric pound?

    The Dutch for instance, though going metric in the 19th century, still tend to announce newborn weights in pounds ("pond"). However, a "pond" is 500 gram or half a kilo. Except for the name, it has nothing to do with the English/Imperial measure and it is entirely metric (as is the birth certificate of course).

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  30. BrianAC says:

    Yet another royal baby in pounds and ounces.
    It seems it will take a while before the royal household learn the laws of this land. We stopped using pounds and ounces quite a while ago. They obviously don't shop in the local supermarkets or they would have noticed.
    They are doing a great job at holding this country back in the 19th century, so much for the younger royals 'engaging with the public', some 55% of whom have a metric only education.
    This seems strange to me, as most, if not all references to the royal estate and tourist attractions that I recall are all metric.

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  31. Richard Faith says:

    John Steele says:
    2013-07-25 at 23:59

    "would they really be more interested in getting along with Americans than with citizens of the Commonwealth? That seems “misplaced.”

    (In our defense..."

    Come on now, the Americanised spelling of "defence"?! That seems misplaced!

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  32. BrianAC says:

    @Richard Faith 2014-10-18 at 10:39

    I would say that an American using American spelling is hardly misplaced, unless you think they should 'toe the line' and use English spelling.
    Is this another case that those (presumably) in UK simply cannot think there is a whole world out there. It does not begin and end at the English channel.
    Personally I always like to hear the views of other countries, that is to a large extent what this is all about, not being an isolated, backward looking nation revelling in past 'glories'.

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  33. John Steele says:

    @Richard Faith,

    I thought my post had adequate "hints" I was American, perhaps not. I believe we should each use the version of English that we learned locally. I always spell like an American unless I typo or I am making a specific point that requires British spelling. I probably could not pull off an attempt to use full British spelling and grammar.

    "Defence" means "take the fence down." 🙂 No harm, no foul.

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  34. Mary says:

    2 May 2015 - Their second child
    Buckingham Palace has formally announced the birth of Kate Middleton and Prince William's daughter. The new princess weighs 8lbs 30z and Prince William was present at the birth. A name has yet to be announced, but Prince George now has a little sister!
    Source of this info: Reveal
    Breaking News
    Kate Middleton gives birth: all the details!
    http://www.reveal.co.uk/showbiz-celeb-gossip/news/a645391/buckingham-palace-formally-confirm-birth-of-second-royal-baby-with-easel.html
    ++++
    So, 'What did the royal baby really weigh?'
    Again, disappointment that the weight wasn't announced in metric units.

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  35. Carole says:

    The recorded birth weight in kilograms/grams is a medical record; so unless this information is released to the public - it'll remain confidential.

    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (and Prince Harry) have a new Communications Secretary, Jason Knauf. Did he arrange for the announcement to be given in pounds and ounces?

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  36. Charlie says:

    the BBC website provided the same 8lb 3oz figure, but did also give 3.7kg immediately after in brackets. I confess I personally don't care much for the Royal Family as an institution (that's a whole different debate) but I did look for units in the press - so far I'm yet to see metric given as a main unit, even in the relatively metric-friendly Grauniad!

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  37. BrianAC says:

    Another bad day for the UK, being held back in the dark ages by the royal family. This is the couple who are supposed to be modern and forward looking, so we can look forward to looking back to the future. I guess having an American banker as their new Communications Secretary will ensure we get good dose of Imperial measures from the palace in future. My liking of the royals has dipped to a record low.

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  38. Jake says:

    Carole wrote: "The recorded birth weight in kilograms/grams is a medical record; so unless this information is released to the public – it’ll remain confidential."

    If what you're saying is that the information is put out to the world in 'pounds and ounces' with a 'back conversion' to a rounded 3.7 kg (this is the figure I have seen in the UK and foreign media) in order to avoid giving the 'exact figure' in grams that appears in the records since that figure is a medical secret, then it seems to make a mockery of pretending to provide the information in the first place!

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  39. Sylvia says:

    What a lot of twaddle - people in the UK think of baby weight in terms if pounds and ounces and always will!

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  40. BrianAC says:

    @ Sylvia.
    The point is that the NHS does not weigh, think nor record babies, nor anything else, in pounds and ounces.
    If you report your child’s weight in lb at a hospital then someone has to carry out a conversion for you, they may or may not have a clue as to what a pound is, they may or may not know the conversion, they may or may not get it right. They could get it very wrong, they could just think of pounds as kg. Your child may or may not be harmed by any error.
    The NHS uses kg exclusively, it is however your free choice to put your family at risk. THINK of your child's weight in lb if you want, but it may just be a good idea to KNOW it in kg also, the NHS will use only the kg.

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  41. Alan says:

    Another Royal baby is on the way ...

    From above:
    'Many months for people to write and request [again] that if the birth weight is given it should be in metric units.'

    A 'reply received in January 2012, indicated that a careful note of the comments had been made.'

    Is it worth writing formal letters, probably not.
    Perhaps Twitter might be more successful.

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