What is Failure to Thrive Syndrome?

Failure to thrive is exactly what it sounds like: your infant, for whatever reason is not gaining enough weight and ‘thriving‘. Perhaps your baby is missing developmental markers as well, such as rolling over, smiling, and/or cooing. Failure to thrive can have so many causes that it may take awhile to diagnose exactly why your infant may not be gaining weight.

Failure to Thrive and Weight Gain
If you have been blessed with a particularly large baby, eventually your baby will slow down in his rate of growth. My son was in the 95th percentile until about age 2. Slowly over the next year he dropped to the 35th percentile. Failure to thrive? Hardly, but he is born of average height parents and very short grandparents. He has, if I may say it this way: short genes!

Just because your baby drops in weight does not automatically mean that he has failure to thrive syndrome. Especially if he was very large on the percentile charts. On the other hand, your infant should gain at least ½ oz. a day. If your newborn infant is not gaining at least that much, your pediatrician will likely want to investigate further.

What causes Failure to Thrive Syndrome?
There are many things that could possibly contribute to failure to thrive syndrome. There are diseases that keep the body from absorbing nutrients or those that keep the body from properly using what is eaten. There are also metabolic disorders like hypoglycemia. It is also possible that there is another underlying cause of failure to thrive such as a tumor or parasite.

How is it diagnosed?
Doctors will use a standard growth chart to measure the baby’s head circumference, height, and weight at each well baby visit. If a baby falls below the average range for his age, or fails to gain weight for three consecutive months, a pediatrician is likely to be concerned and want to look into it further.

In order to diagnose the underlying cause as to why the infant isn’t gaining weight, your child’s pediatrician will likely order a battery of tests: urinalysis, electrolyte count as well as regular blood work.

Also, the pediatrician is likely to ask you questions to help determine whether or not the infant is getting enough food and whether or not there are other issues at home.

How is it Treated?
How it is treated is largely dependent on the underlying cause. However, a treatment team will undoubtedly include the child’s pediatrician as well as any specialist that may be needed. If the cause is determined to be the fault of the parents, a social worker will likely be involved as well. A speech therapist or occupational therapist can also be very useful if the issue is with swallowing because both of these professionals have an intimate knowledge of the mechanisms needed for eating and swallowing.

Does My Baby Have Failure to Thrive Syndrome?
Most mothers know instinctively when things are wrong. If your infant seems happy, is hitting normal developmental milestones, and is steadily gaining weight–it is unlikely that he has failure to thrive syndrome. A baby who is slowly gaining weight is not an automatic candidate for failure to thrive.

If you suspect that something is wrong, you should call your pediatrician. Most pediatricians will say that they would rather a mom call in for nothing than a mom not call in when it was really something. Early diagnosis of an underlying medical problem will only help your baby gain weight and get healthy more quickly!

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