What is Failure to Thrive?

If your child isn't meeting appropriate growth expectations based on age, gender, or family history, it's possible that they could be diagnosed with failure to thrive (FTT). Failure to Thrive is a medical condition that occurs when a child gains weight significantly slower than expected due to inadequate nutrition. It is typically diagnosed when a child is below the third or fifth percentile or if weight crosses two percentile lines on the growth chart a pediatrician references for your child.


Child Growth Charts & Nutrition

As a parent, it’s important to keep in mind that child growth charts are used to show average growth patterns for weight and height for specific ages and genders. Talk with your pediatrician about growth percentiles, and determining the appropriate height and weight range for your child.

It’s also important to know what growth standards are so you can be sure your child is getting the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy. Child nutrition that includes essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber, is a key element to promoting growth and development in your child's life. Researching the food pyramid for kids through government programs like choosemyplate.gov, can also help shed some light on what could be missing from your child’s diet.

If you still have questions or would like additional information, PediaSure has helpful tips and advice about child nutrition as well as assistance with proper feeding habits.

Failure to thrive chartFailure to thrive chartFailure to thrive chart

Types of Failure to Thrive:
Organic Failure to Thrive vs. Non-organic Failure to Thrive

Organic failure to thrive is the result of a pre-existing medical condition that can lead to malnutrition, due to the fact that the child is not receiving the necessary nutrients to sustain healthy growth. Some medical conditions associated with organic failure to thrive are:

  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cerebral palsy

Non-organic failure to thrive is often caused by a child not consuming enough calories to support growth and may be due to the following reasons:

  • Selective eating behaviors
  • Confusion around proper feeding techniques
  • Poor living conditions or poverty
  • Incorrectly prepared formula or lack of breast milk during infancy
  • Low birth weight or premature birth

Failure to Thrive Symptoms

FTT can sometimes be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to other conditions. If you believe your child may have inadequate growth for their age, be on the lookout for the following possible failure to thrive symptoms:

  • Slow or stalled height and weight gain
  • Delayed development milestones
  • Fatigue or excessive sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Emotional development delays
  • Delayed puberty in teens

If you notice one or more possible symptoms in your child, talk to your pediatrician to further evaluate the possibility of FTT and possible next steps.

Addressing Failure to Thrive


Organic Failure to Thrive

If your child’s failure to thrive is caused by a pre-existing medical condition, it is best to discuss proper treatment of the condition with your pediatrician.


Non-Organic Failure to Thrive

If FTT is associated with an environmental issue, once growth charts and diet records are assessed by a pediatrician, treatment may take the form of proper child nutrition including a special diet or nutritional therapy. For older children living with FTT, re-thinking eating habits and increasing caloric intake may help promote height and weight gain.

When to Talk to Your Pediatrician and What to Ask

If you feel that your child is struggling in either height or weight, schedule an appointment to get your pediatrician’s opinion and assessment. They will evaluate all factors that could be contributing to your child’s growth, including daily feeding habits, or any possible illnesses or underlying medical conditions that could be affecting growth.

Before your appointment, review these helpful questions to ask your pediatrician:

  • How is my child growing? Should I be concerned with his/her height/weight?
  • How much exercise should my child get per day? My child is very active/not active – does this change recommended daily caloric intake?
  • How many hours should my child sleep per night? Are naps acceptable? Is it normal for him/her to be tired often?
  • How many meals should my child eat per day? Are there nutritional supplements he/she should be receiving daily/per week?
  • Is there anything I could be doing as a parent to encourage proper eating habits or a better feeding schedule?
  • Is it possible my child has a medical condition that is hindering him/her from eating correctly?

For additional helpful advice on how to handle Failure to Thrive or incorporating better feeding routines into your child’s daily eating habits, contact a PediaSure feeding expert.