3 Questions Answered About Failure to Thrive
As parents, we all want our children to grow up healthy and strong. At well-child checks, your baby or child’s growth will be measured and compared to other children his age, even if he was born premature.But what happens if your baby or child isn’t following the growth curve? In some cases, prolonged growth problems could mean failure to thrive.
What does failure to thrive mean?
Failure to thrive means a lack of expected normal physical growth. Doctors may diagnose failure to thrive after several consistently low weight-for-age measurements. It is typical for toddlers or older children to go through phases of reduced appetite, but infants should be consistent eaters. If a baby under 12 months of age doesn’t gain weight for three months in a row, it could be an indicator of failure
What contributes to failure to thrive?
There are many factors which can contribute to failure to thrive. While it’s true that failure to thrive is often a result of child neglect or malnutrition, there are other medical reasons why a child is not growing properly.
- Picky eating – Sometimes children who are highly selective in the foods they eat are not taking in the calories and nutrients required for suitable growth.
- Too little food offered – Parents have most or all control over what their young children and babies consume. Whether intentional or otherwise, parents or other caregivers can cause malnutrition by not offering enough food to their children or not recognizing the signs of hunger in babies.
- Digestive problems – Even if a child consumes enough calories, if the body cannot adequately absorb and utilize the nutrients failure to thrive can result. Digestive disorders such as celiac disease, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), cystic fibrosis, or even a food intolerance can prohibit the body from getting the nutrients it needs.
- Ongoing illness – There are many chronic illnesses which can make it challenging for babies and children to eat. Some cause physical difficulties, such as prematurity, while others cause the body to burn through calories faster, such as endocrine system or heart problems.
- Infection – When fighting an infection or parasite, the body works overtime and requires a higher nutrient intake. Since infections make us feel ill, a decreased appetite can lead to short-term failure to thrive.
- Metabolic disorders – The process of breaking down and taking the energy from food (or metabolizing) poorly can make it difficult for children to retain enough nutrients to thrive.
How is failure to thrive treated?
Once your child’s doctor diagnoses failure to thrive, treatment depends on the cause of the problem. A specialist, such as a dietitian, psychologist, or social worker, could be required to get your child the help he needs. If the lack of enough food is to blame for failure to thrive, your child’s doctor will probably recommend a high-calorie diet and avoiding empty calories. If the case is extreme, your child may require a feeding tube or a hospital stay until he gains some weight, as it can take months for the effects of malnutrition to disappear.
If you doubt your child is getting enough to eat or growing as he should, talk to his pediatrician. Waiting can make the problem worse! As failure to thrive happens over time, be sure to keep your baby’s well-child check-ups so that he is frequently measured for growth and any health problems can be properly addressed.
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