A child is said to have failure
to thrive when they don’t meet recognized standards of growth. According to Kids Health, failure to thrive isn’t a disease or disorder.
Instead, it describes a situation in which a child is undernourished and either
doesn’t receive or is unable to process enough calories. An example of failure
to thrive (FTT) would be a child who is persistently below the standard weight
range for their developmental stage. Typically, a doctor will diagnose failure
to thrive during a child’s infant years.
A doctor determines a child’s
ideal weight by comparing their weight, age, and gender to national averages.
Children who fail to thrive usually fall well below their ideal weight. A child
may also be diagnosed with FTT if their growth rate in terms of height stalls
when it should be on an upward trend.
Ask your doctor for a chart
that lists ideal height and weight ranges for children to help monitor your
child’s development. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) also offer a chart that you can use as a reference.
Risk factors for a child
failing to thrive include underlying conditions, such as:
- Down syndrome
- cerebral palsy
- heart disease
- milk allergy
- celiac disease
- acid reflux
Children who have serious
medical problems during the early years of their life can develop FTT. Children
who are born prematurely and have low birth weight may also fail to thrive.
Other risk factors include:
- poor nutrition
- poor feeding
- physical abuse
- mental trauma
disorders, such as depression
factors, such as poverty
What are the symptoms of failure to thrive?
Generally, an affected child’s
weight falls below the 3rd percentile on standard growth charts. A change in
the rate of growth, rather than specific numbers, is also an indicator. For
example, if your child has been growing well, but their growth stagnates, they
may have FTT.
Your child may have an unsteady
rate of growth. Some children who fail to thrive exhibit the following
- lack of weight
- delays in
reaching developmental milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and talking
- lack of
emotions such as smiling, laughing, or making eye contact
- delayed motor
puberty in teens
When should I seek medical treatment?
Regular checkups can prevent
failure to thrive. These should begin during your pregnancy and continue
through adulthood. Your doctor should regularly plot your child’s growth on
A child with FTT may be small
compared to other children of the same age and gender. Their growth pattern may
not be steady. Have regular checkups with a pediatrician to get the most
accurate analysis of your child’s growth.
Because failure to thrive can
lead to permanent mental, emotional, and physical delays, it’s important to
have regular checkups so that doctors can monitor your child’s health.
How is failure to thrive diagnosed?
Tests can assess the effects of
FTT on your child’s health and growth. These may include:
- blood tests
- urine tests
Caregivers may need counseling
if the doctor suspects that unhealthy practices in the family are a cause.
What are the treatment options for failure to thrive?
Treatment options vary
- the severity
- the overall
health of the child
preferences of parents or caretakers
- the family
- the cause of
Some cases of failure to thrive
may be resolvable once a doctor treats the underlying condition. If FTT
requires further care, the child’s doctor may prescribe nutritional supplements
or a special diet.
When FTT has a connection to
problems at home, your doctor may consult social services. Hospital care,
including the use of feeding tubes, can provide extra nourishment in cases of
After your child’s growth has reached
normal levels, they may need help to keep physical and mental growth on track.
Physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians,
and other specialists may be able to help your child.
What is the long-term outlook?
If your child receives
treatment for FTT early, they should be able to grow normally, barring any
serious medical issues. Failure to thrive that’s not treated can result in
long-term complications, including learning disabilities, emotional problems,
and short stature.
If you notice that your child
is having difficulty eating, consult your doctor right away. If you become
frustrated and begin to feel stress, your child may perceive your feelings and feel
more anxiety about eating. Talking to a doctor early on can alleviate your
fears and get your child on the road to proper health and nutrition.