#20 Failure to Thrive

Failure to thrive (FTT) is the term used for babies which are admitted to the hospital shortly after returning home with their mother because they are not gaining weight as much as most babies their age.  The term can apply to older children, but if a new breastfed baby isn’t gaining weight, it is most likely because the baby isn’t getting enough to eat.

Today, with hospital stays of as little as 12 hours, women are sent home before their milk comes in and often before their physician can determine if they are successfully breastfeeding their baby. Yes, there are lactation specialists, but that’s not the same as my nurses and I having enough time with my patients to be sure their babies are getting enough to eat.

Although we usually see the term failure to thrive in reference to newborns, as babies develop, they may not meet the standard growth patterns for children. In FTT, a child’s development is not on a par with the ideal weight, height, or growth of children of a similar age and sex. Doctors usually make the diagnosis in infants, but they may also see this in older children and even adolescents.


Typically, children are diagnosed with FTT when they do not match the standard growth charts. Delayed physical, mental, and social skills could also be signs of FTT. The following symptoms may show up differently in different children:

  • Delayed physical skills for their age (sitting, standing, walking, rolling over)
  • Delayed mental and social skills
  • Not enough weight gain for their age
  • Low height for their age
  • Shows signs of sleepiness or more tired than usual

These symptoms don’t seem unnatural, so it’s best to bring your child to your healthcare provider if you think something might not be right.


Failure to thrive can be caused by several things:

  • A medical condition

Babies or children who have a medical condition causing them to need more nutrition than other children. The calories provided by their usual meals might not be enough to keep them growing.

  • Infections

Children who have infections can also be diagnosed with FTT. Their bodies could be using up the calories needed for their growth to fight off the infection.

  • Food intolerance

Some children who exhibit FTT may have food intolerances. This means that their bodies are sensitive to some foods and can’t properly digest certain foods.


The best treatment for children with failure to thrive is to make sure that they receive the calories they need to grow. Often, doctors will suggest a meal plan that consists of high-calorie foods or formula. Psychologists and therapists might also guide you if the problem is due to a child’s behavior.

As a parent, it is important for you to take your child to all suggested doctor’s appointments to make sure that they are growing at the proper rate and have no signs of FTT.