Failure to Thrive

At Children’s Health, our team of experts collaborates to diagnose, treat and care for children who are failing to thrive. Our multidisciplinary team can tackle every aspect of your child’s condition.

We make it easier for you to schedule appointments and get treatment for your child by offering care from multiple providers in the same appointment, at one location. We will also coordinate a meeting with our social work team to help connect you with resources that will help you treat your child’s failure to thrive. Our collaborative approach gets your child’s growth back on track and helps keep it that way for the long haul.

What is Pediatric Failure to Thrive?

Failure to thrive (FTT) is a condition where a child is significantly smaller and is developing more slowly than other children their age. FTT can cause developmental delays and other health problems. You can help prevent failure to thrive by seeking help with your child’s nutritional needs early in their life.

Failure to thrive can happen for many reasons — from medical disorders like cerebral palsy that can make eating difficult, to environmental factors like not having access to healthy, nutritious food. Children may also experience FTT for a combination of medical and environmental reasons. Whatever the reasons behind your child’s FTT, we are here to help support you and your family as we get your child’s nutritional health back on track.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Failure to Thrive?

  • Delayed thinking, motor, and language skills
  • Delayed secondary sexual characteristics (in adolescents)
  • Delayed social skills
  • Slow or stopped growth
  • Below average height, weight, and head circumference
  • Lack of weight gain or weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and excessive sleepiness
  • Low height for their age (or length for babies)
  • Learning and behavior problems (in school-aged children)

How is Pediatric Failure to Thrive diagnosed?

Before diagnosing failure to thrive, a doctor will review your child's medical history and perform a physical exam. Your child’s doctor will also use standard growth charts to determine whether their weight, height and head size are below the standard for their age and sex.

To understand why your child may be failing to thrive, a doctor might ask you about your child’s:

  • Feeding, bowel and bathroom habits
  • Access to food
  • Previous illnesses
  • Family health history

Your child’s doctor might also perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood, urine and stool tests to look for underlying medical causes and check medication doses.
  • X-rays to determine any growth issues in your child’s bones.
  • Endoscopic imaging to identify any inflammation or problems absorbing nutrients are contributing to your child’s condition

What causes Pediatric Failure to Thrive?

Failure to thrive is always caused by not getting enough nutrients. When a child is not consuming enough calories or when their body cannot absorb nutrients, they might fail to grow or gain weight. However, many different things that lead to poor nourishment can happen at the same time. Often, medical and environmental factors combine to cause a child to fail to thrive.

Stomach and digestive problems can make it difficult for children to absorb nutrients. They can also make eating uncomfortable, so children with these conditions might be unwilling to eat. Other medical conditions that may lead to failure to thrive include:

  • Anemia or blood disorders
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Feeding disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Hormone problems
  • Long-term (chronic) infections
  • Thyroid and hormone problems
  • Chromosome abnormalities, such as Down syndrome and Turner syndrome
  • Defects in major organ systems that are present at birth
  • Damage to the brain or central nervous system
  • Heart or lung problems
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Complications during pregnancy and low birth weight
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Celiac disease

Meanwhile, the conditions in which your child is born, grows, and lives — known as social determinants of health — can influence their health outcomes. Social determinants of health like economic insecurity can jeopardize a child’s consistent access to food and contribute to FTT. Other environmental factors that may lead to failure to thrive include exposure to infections, parasites or toxins.

How is Pediatric Failure to Thrive treated?

Our team will take the following into careful consideration while creating your child’s custom treatment plan:

  • The factors causing your child's failure to thrive
  • Your child and family’s routine, priorities and interests
  • Your child's age, overall health and medical history
  • The extent and severity of your child's symptoms
  • Your opinions and preferences

We might recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Family counseling to treat any contributing psychological or emotional factors
  • Nutritional therapy to promote weight gain and to correct any vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • Educational resources to help you address your child’s nutritional needs
  • Treatments for any contributing medical conditions

Your child’s treatment will involve a team of pediatric providers, including:

  • Gastrointestinal specialists
  • Social workers
  • Nutritionists
  • Physical therapists
  • Geneticists

Failure to Thrive Doctors and Providers

Our team has deep and varied experience in treating failure to thrive and helping families navigate its many causes. Make an appointment with a specialist today.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I call my child’s healthcare provider to ask about failure to thrive?

    If you notice your child developing differently from other children their age, or signs and symptoms of a lack of weight gain or growth, call their doctor and ask for an evaluation.

  • My child is struggling to gain weight. Should I be worried?

    If you notice that your child is having a hard time gaining weight or growing, take them to their pediatrician for a check-up. There is a wide range of what is considered healthy weight and height for children as they grow, so your child may not be as far behind as you think. But asking your child’s doctor is a sure way to find out whether they are failing to thrive.

  • How will failure to thrive affect my child as they grow up?

    There are health complications associated with failing to thrive. For example, FTT can impact brain growth and development. The sooner we can determine the cause of your child’s FTT, the more likely it is that we can treat the problem and improve their growth and development. Many children who fail to thrive go on to live full, healthy lives.


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