What Does “Failure to Thrive” Mean?

May 18, 2018
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Parents love to celebrate milestones in their children’s lives: The first time sitting up. The first steps. The first word. The first birthday. Watching them grow and become little people is a joy. Nothing is too small to overlook.

It is because of this constant loving watch that you may have noticed that something may be… off. You’re not exactly sure what it is. Maybe your child is smaller than usual. Maybe you haven’t really noticed anything different, yet at a routine pediatrician visit, you’re told that your child is failing to thrive.

What does that mean? Is there anything you can do to make it better? How would this affect your son or daughter?

What does failure to thrive mean?

A child is said to be failing to thrive if his or her weight and height are below the 5th percentile. Simply put, the child is smaller and weighs less than most children his or her age. The two main reasons a child is not growing at a standard rate are:

1. Not eating enough calories, or

2. His or her body is not absorbing nutrients from food.

What are some reasons why newborn babies “fail to thrive”?

When a child is failing to thrive, the infant is malnourished. This could be due to several factors:

Signs of Failure to Thrive

Many of the signs and symptoms that a child is failing to thrive are obvious through close observation. These include:

  • Delayed motor development (child is yet not able to do what most kids their age can do, such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, or walking).
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • The child is constantly tired
  • The child sleeps a lot
  • The child is smaller than most kids his or her age
  • The child doesn’t smile or laugh
  • Rashes on skin
  • Visible signs of malnourishment, such as protruding bones.

Risk Factors for Failure to Thrive

The reason why some babies are not receiving enough nourishment could be related to the family environment, socioeconomic factors, or an underlying illness.

Some of the most common risk factors are:

  • Smoking, consuming alcohol, or using drugs during pregnancy
  • Poverty
  • Either parent is depressed
  • Either parent abuses alcohol
  • Either parent is a drug user
  • Lack of an emotional bond between parents and child
  • Down syndrome
  • Parasites
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cleft lip and palate

Treatment for Infants Who Fail To Thrive

Once there is a diagnosis, the pediatrician and parents will discuss scheduled meals for the child. In addition, the doctor will schedule a series of appointments to keep records of a child’s weight and height.

If there is no weight gain during this process, the child will require hospitalization for feeding and intravenous fluids including electrolytes.

If there are any signs of abuse or neglect, the child and parent may undergo a psychosocial evaluation.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Pediatric Home Care Services

At Care Options for Kids, we can discuss all of your available options. If your child is failing to thrive and you feel like you need additional assistance to help your child become healthy again, we can help.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today (888) 592-5855.