Failure to thrive: When your baby isn't growing normally

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Failure to thrive: When your baby isn't growing normally


What does failure to thrive in an infant mean?

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The term "failure to thrive" means an infant isn't growing normally. Babies with this problem weigh less and may be shorter in length than other babies of the same sex and age.

The most common cause is inadequate nutrition — which means an infant isn't getting enough to eat or isn't getting enough of the right kinds of foods to develop properly. Rarely, a baby fails to thrive due to an underlying medical condition, such as reflux, cystic fibrosis or celiac disease.

It's important to note that infants grow at different rates. Many normal babies go through brief periods when they stop gaining weight or even lose a little weight. However, a doctor would likely be concerned only if a baby doesn't gain weight for three consecutive months during the first year.

A doctor can diagnose failure to thrive by using standard growth charts to plot the child's weight, length and head circumference, which are measured at each well-baby exam. Infants who fall below a certain weight range for their age or who are failing to gain weight at the expected rate may require further evaluation.

An infant who fails to thrive will also show signs of mental, emotional and physical delays. Early detection and treatment is important for preventing permanent growth and developmental problems.

Infant growth chart: How much should my baby grow?
Age Average growth in height Average growth in weight
0-6 months 6-7 inches 7-12 pounds
6-12 months 3-4 inches 5-7 pounds
1-2 years 4-5 inches 5-7 pounds

Adapted from the National Center for Health Statistics, 2000

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