Science has known for centuries that the most rapid growth we see in our lifetimes happens in our earliest years of life. From the moment we are conceived, our cells and organs are undergoing radical transformations to help us reach optimal levels of health. That doesn’t stop at birth. In fact, the growth we experience after delivery is remarkable and ongoing throughout most of our lives.
For most children, that growth is measurable. They gain weight at a steady rate. They grow taller, and in some cases, children don’t grow at expected rates. Growth charts show clear indications of what doctors call “failure to thrive.”
There are many reasons as to why this happens. Sometimes illnesses or disease processes can be to blame. In some cases, there may be an eating or feeding disorder. Failure to latch properly can be one cause or congenital issues. No matter the case, your child’s doctor will want to get to the root of the problem as soon as possible. Together, your family and the child’s pediatrician can work to determine why this is happening.
The term “failure to thrive” is not new, but despite the centuries-old use of the phrase, there is no consensus on its definition. The reason for that is because it isn’t necessarily a disease. It’s a condition, an indicator, a sign that something larger like malnutrition or undernourishment may be at play. For whatever reason, these children can’t absorb the proper calories or nutrients to cause them to gain weight. For these reasons, it is imperative that families and doctors work together to help the child thrive and to minimize any related problems.
Consult your child’s physician if your child is having problems latching on or if you notice anything unusual about their eating or lack thereof. Doctors are trained to notice when something has gone awry and can work with you and your child to help reverse some of the adverse effects.
The signs and symptoms of failure to thrive might not be outwardly noticeable at first. They can consist of things that can be easily explained away by other factors. For instance, a very young child may become colicky. An older child may avoid eye contact, suffer from extreme lethargy, not be as engaged as they once were or as much as children their age should be. They may have trouble concentrating or have trouble holding down food or difficulty swallowing food. You might notice their clothes fitting differently. Their pallor changing. No matter how small or insignificant you believe the change to be, take note of it and consult your child’s pediatrician. It’s far better to be proactive with your child’s health than to not ask questions. And, don’t panic, some solutions can help your child get ahead of the curve and reverse any damage. Rest assured, your healthcare professional will have answers and will walk you through the treatment plan that is best for your child.
You are your child’s biggest advocate. You are also human. Trust your gut. Ask questions. Failure to thrive is a setback, not a life sentence for you or your child.
By Olga Gomez, MD