Poor Growth Failure to Thrive

What is failure to thrive?

Failure to thrive is defined as decelerated or arrested physical growth (height and weight measurements fall below the fifth percentile, or a downward change in growth across two major growth percentiles) and is associated with poor developmental and emotional functioning. Organic failure to thrive occurs when there is an underlying medical cause. Nonorganic (psychosocial) failure (NOFTT) to thrive occurs in a child who is usually younger than 2 years old and has no known medical condition that causes poor growth.

Prevention & Risk Treatment

Prevention & Risk Treatment

What causes nonorganic failure to thrive?

Psychological, social, or economic problems within the family almost always play a role in the cause of NOFTT. Emotional or maternal deprivation is often related to the nutritional deprivation. The mother or primary caregiver may neglect proper feeding of the infant because of preoccupation with the demands or care of others, her own emotional problems, substance abuse, lack of knowledge about proper feeding, or lack of understanding of the infant's needs.

Organic failure to thrive is caused by medical complications of premature birth or other medical illnesses that interfere with feeding and normal bonding activities between parents and infants.

Who is affected by failure to thrive?

Infants born into families with psychological, social, or economic problems are more at risk of developing nonorganic failure to thrive. NOFTT occurs when maladaptive behaviors develop in both the infant and the primary caregiver. Maladaptive behaviors may develop around problems establishing regular, calm feeding routines, problems of attachment between the mother and the infant, and/or problems of separation. Other risk factors that put a child at risk for developing nonorganic failure to thrive include mother or primary caregiver with any, or several, of the following conditions present:

  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Psychosocial stress
  • Lack of affection or warmth shown toward infant

What are the symptoms of failure to thrive?

The following are the most common symptoms of failure to thrive. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Lack of appropriate weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Easily fatigued
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Lack of age-appropriate social response (i.e., smile)
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Lack of molding to the mother's body
  • Does not make vocal sounds
  • Delayed motor development

The symptoms of failure to thrive may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis

How is failure to thrive diagnosed?

Failure to thrive is usually discovered and diagnosed by the infant's physician. Infants are always weighed and measured when seen by their physicians for well-baby check-ups. The physician initiates a more complete evaluation when the infant's development and functioning are found to be delayed.

Children's Team

Children's Team

Providers

John Snyder

Division Chief, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition
Our Stories

Our Stories

Addie's Story

"One thing to remember as parents going through a medical difficulty, is that no matter how long your stay may be, even if it is planned or unexpected, you will get through it."

Departments

Departments

Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Our gastroenterology experts provide expert diagnosis and treatments for children with digestive, liver, and nutrition disorders.

Invest in future cures for some of life's most devastating diseases

See other ways to give

Run or walk with us on September 13th and help local kids!

Race for Every Child Logo Register now

Jeremiah's Story

Patient story

"Through the ups and downs and the uncertainty of what was to come, I asked questions. The surgical team was available to personally answer my questions."

Read More of Jeremiah's Story