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Family Nutrition: When your child is ‘failing to thrive’

There’s so much information about child obesity out in the press and media, but what if you are dealing with the opposite end?  It can be very scary as a parent to watch your little one fail to gain weight.  As you travel back and forth to the doctors waiting for the dots to appear on the growth chart a million things can go through your head.  You sit and wait and then finally get the ‘diagnosis’ failure to thrive.  What do you do next?

Failure to thrive is more of a descriptive diagnosis that is the result of an underlying condition or situation.  It’s loosely defined as the inability to gain weight for approximately three consistent months.  

What should you do with this diagnosis?  The first suggestion is to insure your infant or toddler gets a full medical exam.  You want to rule out any metabolic disorders, malabsorption disorders, or food intolerances or allergies.  Believe it or not, something such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) can contribute to a lack of weight gain.  Infants and toddlers are smart cookies and if it’s painful to eat, they will withdraw to avoid being uncomfortable.  I also suggest asking for a referral to a dietitian or working directly with the dietitian in the office as he or she can complete a calorie account and compare to recommended needs.  Dietitian’s are the specialists for food and nutrition and are the only clinicians licensed to evaluate nutritional status and provide suggestions to nurture nutrition related conditions.

It’s also imperative to think of any changes that could correlate with a weight stability or loss.  Did your infant or toddler just start daycare?  It’s possible that they aren’t getting the attention they need at mealtime.  Are they an early crawler or walker?  They could be burning more calories than you expect and you may need to increase nutrients.   Have you recently introduced new foods?  If so could your infant or toddler have an intolerance that is causing some pain?  Speak up, all of the above are very important for your physician or dietitian to know.

A thorough medical exam and the help of a dietitian can help get to the bottom of the cause.  Failure to thrive can usually be turned around once the cause is detected but its imperative to use your resources.  Have any questions? I’d love to help provide you with an answer.  Be well.   

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