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I often talk to people who have just had a baby, and their news usually includes something along the lines of:

It was a boy / girl. The name is ________. He / she weighed _____ pounds _____ ounces.

Usually I reply with, "Congratulations, you must be so happy", but I've noticed that some people address the weight of the newborn in their response specifically.

Looking on Wikipedia:

The average birth weight in babies of European heritage is 3.5 kilograms (7.7 lb), though the range of normal is between 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lb) and 5 kilograms (11 lb) (all but 5% of newborns will fall into this range). Babies of south Asian and Chinese heritage weigh about 240 grams (0.53 lb) less.

What are you supposed to say if the baby is over / underweight? What is considered over / underweight?

Is commenting on the baby's physical characteristics appropriate? If so, how does one address this tactfully?

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    Hello Fodder. I've edited your question in an attempt to make it more on topic. Please review – Magisch Dec 1 '17 at 11:55
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First, there is no social obligation to comment on any specific baby details such as the hair colour, amount of hair, size, or anything else. Simply congratulating the parents will always be a correct response.

Some people have a spontaneous reaction such as "wow, that is twice as much as my baby weighed" or "wow, that is half what my baby weighed" and they may share these comments with the parents. If a baby weighs 6 lbs, or 9 lbs, that's unlikely to provoke a reaction from anyone. But 4 lbs, or 13 pounds, probably will. There's no point in anyone telling you "here is a thing to say when a baby is really big" though - either something pops into your head or it doesn't.

One exception would be a very tiny baby, say 3 lbs or less. That is a baby who is lucky to be alive, and parents who have already been through a lot by the time they send out their announcements. Be very careful what you say in this circumstance. "Wow, that seems really tiny!" is fine. "Oh, does the baby have a lot of problems?" or "Will the baby grow up normal?" are not. Neither are hoping that the baby will be ok, or turn out ok, etc. (Why? Because people only say things like that when there's a very good chance things won't be ok, and the parents shouldn't have to spend energy reassuring their friends at a time when the parents are the ones who need reassuring.) If you're close to them, you can acknowledge that there must have been some very scary moments and offer your support. If you're not, don't ask questions or offer opinions about the future; let the parents set the tone of the conversation.

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I think the short answer here is don't comment about the infant's weight unless the parent, or concerned person does. If/when that happens take their lead.

I have a niece who was born at 4lbs 7oz she was premature by a few months. Try to keep in mind what that means for parents and family... A few months in a NICU ward hoping the little one is going to make it. Comments about how small she was would be understood, but not appreciated.

On the other hand I knew a poor woman who gave birth to a strapping big 12.5 lb child who had a lot of jokes about the experience.

Try not to assume you know how the person feels about the situation, let their face and tone tell you how to react.

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Just say "congratulations" and don't comment on the weight.

Why people always announce the weight of the baby, I don't know. Perhaps the new mum just wants everybody to know how difficult it was to deliver / carry around for the last 9 months!

If it helps you to stop worrying, a baby's weight at birth is largely irrelevant. Babies come in all shapes and sizes and in normal circumstances can be born up to 2 weeks early or up to 2 weeks late which can mean a whole extra month's growth between one baby and another. Also, babies are born with an excess of 'brown fat'. This is burned up over the first few days of their life while they wait for their mother's milk to come through. Babies look way skinnier a few days after their birth.

Healthy weight / growth of babies are plotted over time and using percentiles, so there is still huge scope for variation in their weight.

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What are you supposed to say if the baby is over / underweight? What is considered over / underweight?

"Congratulations, you must be so happy"

Any variation from this formula is to be considered in the specific context of your relationship with the parents.

Edited to Add

The reason for this is:

  1. Comments on the baby's size are not required by protocol. (i.e. It's always safe to not comment on the baby's size.)
  2. Your question implies that you don't know the parents very well so you don't know how they'd receive any comments on the baby's weight/length etc... This also means you may accidentally stumble on issues the parents are experiencing with their own body image. In this case it's safer to not comment on it.
  3. Additionally, the very subject of babies is inherently closely related to other subjects which one doesn't discuss except maybe with the closest of friends so it could be easy for a comment on the baby's size to be perceived as crossing a line.
  • Welcome! Can you explain why this solution is a good one? We have a "back it up" rule that requires answers to support themselves with explanations of either supporting evidence, personal experience, or at the very least an explanation of why this works. – Catija Dec 4 '17 at 20:20
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There is very little to say about a newborn. It hasn't yet shown an aptitude for anything; it hasn't yet said anything cute; to the naked eye, it is very little different from any other baby, even if it seems marvelously unique to the parents and is, in fact, unique in terms of, e.g., DNA, fingerprints, retinal patterns.

About the only information to transmit about the newborn is its sex, weight, eye color, hair color, its utter perfection and who it resembles in the imagination of the parents. For some reason, length is hardly ever mentioned, maybe because length is less noticeable in someone lying down. (The Average Length and Weight of Newborns -- see esp. last paragraph of the article.)

The parents want to talk about the baby; let them. Make remarks they want to hear -- e.g., so cute; what eyes; you must be so proud and so on -- even if it looks like a blob to you. If the parents seem proud of a hefty weight, say that it will be a fine athlete. If they seem worried about a low weight, or some other problem, that is more problematical, and beyond the scope of this Question.

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