What is Failure to Thrive?
When growing kids are diagnosed as not gaining weight as they should, it is called “failure to thrive” or FTT. Hearing that your baby or child is falling behind in growth can be scary. Understanding what Failure to Thrive is and how it can be managed can help make this less overwhelming. A failure to thrive diagnosis may mean that your child may need more nourishment. In general, kids who fail to thrive are not getting enough calories to grow and gain weight as expected. The good news is that FTT for most babies is only temporary.
There are two kinds of Failure to Thrive: organic (or disease-related) & non-organic (or non-disease related). Medical problems such as heart defects or cystic fibrosis that continue over a long period of time may be the cause of organic FTT. If your child is not growing well, your doctor may suggest medical tests to see if there is an underlying medical problem. If your child has organic FTT, managing the underlying health condition will be part of the plan to get your baby back on track.
When Failure to Thrive has no medical cause it is called non-organic FTT. Infants with non-organic FTT usually begin to gain weight when changes are made in the way the baby is fed, cared for and nurtured.
What to expect from your doctor following a Failure to Thrive diagnosis
- You may be asked questions to figure out what causes may be contributing to your baby’s Failure to Thrive diagnosis; this includes other medical conditions, your baby’s home environment, or lack of resources available to you.
- You may be asked to keep a food journal of everything that your baby eats throughout the day.
- Your child’s growth measurements will be documented on a growth chart to better understand your child’s needs.
- Your child may require more tests (such as a blood test) to rule out other medical conditions.
- In rare cases, your child may need to go to the hospital if your doctor suspects that more management is needed.
- Your doctor will continue to follow your baby’s weight, length, and head circumference measurements for a long period of time to make sure your baby is catching up on his/her growth.
- In some cases, a team approach may be needed for the care of your baby. This means that several different doctors or providers may see your baby over a short period of time, or you may have many appointments scheduled within one day at a specialty clinic. Throughout the day you will see many providers including doctors, nurses, dietitians and social workers. This is needed so that all issues surrounding your baby’s health are addressed. These appointments may be ongoing or last over the course of many months to assess your baby’s growth, develop new feeding plans, and follow up on any teaching needs that you may need.
- If your baby is diagnosed with a medical condition, your doctor may refer you to a specific doctor that specializes in that area.
How can you help your baby reach their growth goal?
- Make sure to follow the advice from your doctor or dietitian.
- Take your child to all recommended doctor visits.
- Avoid giving your baby juice or cow milk because it does not have the right balance of nutrients to help your baby reach his/her weight goals
- Your healthcare team may recommend nutritional supplements, special baby formula, and extra calories to get your baby back on track
- Call the doctor if your child develops new symptoms, like frequent diarrhea or vomiting.
- Talk to the doctor or a therapist if you feel stressed or frustrated about problems with feeding your child.
Janelle Karrell RN, MSN, APRN
Janelle obtained her bachelors of science in nursing at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has RN experience in Newborn Intensive Care Unit and earned her Pediatric Nurse Practitioner degree at Case Western reserve University. She has a strong background in pediatric neurosurgery and pediatric intensive care and is committed to and passionate about the pediatric patient population. She has a desire for high achievement and enjoys working closely with multidisciplinary team in restoring and promoting an optimal quality of life.