What patients and families need to know
Failure to Thrive (Poor Growth)
Key Points about Failure to Thrive (Poor Growth)
- Failure to thrive (FTT) is slow physical development in a baby or child. It is caused by a baby or child not having enough nutrition.
- A child with failure to thrive is at risk for problems such as short height, behavior problems and developmental delays.
- FTT has many possible causes. A baby or child may not be getting enough nutrients and calories. Or a baby or child may take in enough food, but not be able to absorb enough nutrients and calories.
- A baby or child with an ongoing (chronic) health condition may also need more calories and nutrients than normal.
- In some cases, a family may not understand what a baby needs. In severe cases, neglect or abuse may lead to FTT if food is kept from a baby on purpose.
- FTT can be prevented by seeking early help with a child’s nutritional needs.
Failure to thrive (FTT) is slow physical development in a baby or child. It’s caused by a baby or child not having enough nutrition.
Failure to thrive has many possible causes. In some cases, more than one thing may cause it.
A baby or child may not be taking in enough nutrients and calories. This can occur if a baby or child:
- Is not given enough breastmilk, formula, or food
- Has breastfeeding problems
- Is not given solid food at an appropriate age
- Is not willing to eat enough food
- Vomits food repeatedly, such as from severe gastroesophageal reflux
- Has trouble swallowing
- Has developmental delays that cause feeding problems
A baby or child may take in enough food, but not be able to absorb enough nutrients and calories. This can occur if a child has a problem such as:
A baby or child with an ongoing (chronic) health condition may also need more calories and nutrients than normal. This may be the case with congenital heart disease or a genetic syndrome.
In some cases, a family may not have enough support or understanding of what a baby needs. Or they may not provide the right kinds or amounts of food. In severe cases, neglect or abuse may lead to FTT if food is kept from a baby on purpose.
A child is more at risk for FTT if he or she is in a family that has problems with poverty, high stress or parental coping skills.
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each baby or child. They can include:
- Not enough weight gain for age
- Low height (or length, if a baby) for age
- More sleepiness than normal
- Lack of age-appropriate social response, such as smiling
- No vocal sounds
- Delayed physical movement changes (motor development)
- Learning and behavior problems in older children
The symptoms of failure to thrive can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.
Failure to thrive is usually diagnosed by a health care provider. Babies are weighed and measured by a health care provider during routine checkups. The provider will give your child a physical exam. The exam will include checking the baby's growth, development and functioning.
The problem can be prevented by seeking early help with a child’s nutritional needs.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. And it depends on the cause.
Your child may need to see more than one health care provider, such as:
The health care providers will work with the family to find the cause of FTT, and help the child get more nutrition.
A child with FTT is at risk for problems such as:
- Short height
- Behavior problems
- Developmental delays
- Thinking problems
- Problems in school
Call the health care provider if your child has:
- Symptoms that don’t get better or get worse
- New symptoms
Nineteen years ago, Deion was born prematurely and developed eosinophilic esophagitis and acid reflux, along with failure to thrive. For years, he endured environmentally influenced intestinal issues that he and his family didn't understand until they met Children's National specialists who "never gave up on us."
Our gastroenterology experts provide expert diagnosis and treatments for children with digestive, liver and nutrition disorders.