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 Failure to Thrive

Gaining weight and plotting a growth chart are ways parents can track their child’s growth and development. Not hitting milestones or not growing adequately could mean your child has a condition called failure to thrive.

Signs of failure to thrive include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Not gaining weight or height
  • Losing weight
  • Missing development milestones
  • Lacking motor development skills

Children can be diagnosed with failure to thrive at any age, but the causes of the condition are
more specific to the age group.


Infancy is a time of rapid growth and development. A baby who is failing to thrive is not growing, gaining weight and/or not hitting the developmental milestones such as crawling, standing, walking or talking compared to babies. The main concern with failure to thrive in infants is that these children are not utilizing or absorbing their calories efficiently in order to meet their milestones.


Older children who begin showing signs of failure to thrive failure are not growing, not gaining weight and may be losing weight. Children who suddenly develop this condition may have an underlying chronic condition such as, inflammatory bowel disease, hormonal disease, such as low or underactive thyroid, or other primary condition causing failure to thrive.


Teenagers who show signs of failure to thrive may also have an underlying condition such as Crohns or other inflammatory bowel disease where the gut does not absorb nutrients. Another condition seen in teenagers is anorexia, where a child willingly restricts his or her diet to lose weight.

If an infant, child or adolescent does have a heart, kidney, metabolic or other childhood disease, he or she may be more at risk for developing failure to thrive.

Underweight alone does not mean a child has failure to thrive. Depending on the parent’s height, weight and ethnicity, the child may be right on track for his growth and development. The best way to determine if your child is growing properly is to plot your child’ height and weight on a growth chart. Your child’s primary physician will do this at clinic visits. As long as the child is maintaining a steady growth curve and hitting age-appropriate milestones, the child is on his way to a healthy, normal growth and development.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s weight, height or age-appropriate development, contact your child’s primary physician. If your child should need specialized care, you may be referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist who specialized in the digestive system of infants, children and adolescents.