Skip to content

Children's Health

Font Size

Failure to Thrive - Topic Overview

What is failure to thrive?

Failure to thrive is a term used to describe a child who seems to be gaining weight or height more slowly than other children of his or her age and sex. A baby who has failed to thrive may seem slow to develop physical skills, such as rolling over, standing, and walking. Slow growth also can lead to delays in mental and social skills.

What causes failure to thrive?

Failure to thrive can be caused by medical conditions, such as anemia or thyroid problems. Some children do not thrive as expected because they do not get enough to eat or they have emotional problems. A child who has poor eating habits may also have stunted growth.

Not getting enough nutrients is the immediate cause of failure to thrive, but the ultimate cause may be complicated and hard to determine. Failure to thrive may point to caregiver depression or another mental health problem that makes it hard for the caregiver to interpret or respond to the child's needs.

How is it treated?

If your child's failure to thrive is caused by a medical condition, your doctor may be able to treat the condition. That may be enough to help your child begin to gain weight at a normal rate. If your child has emotional problems or has been affected by conditions at home, treatment may need to include counseling and improving the home situation.

Your doctor may recommend that your child receive nutritional therapy in the hospital. Your child may be able to develop at a normal rate if the period of failure to thrive has been short.

When should I call a doctor?

Call911or other emergency services immediately if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child faints.

Call your doctor for an appointment if:

  • Your child seems to be losing weight.
  • Your child is weak or listless.
  • Your child does not begin to thrive as expected.
  • Your child has any new symptoms.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: July 19, 2012
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    1
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    child with red rash on cheeks
    What’s that rash?
    plate of fruit and veggies
    How healthy is your child’s diet?
     
    smiling baby
    Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
    Middle school band practice
    Understanding your child’s changing body.
     

    worried kid
    fitArticle
    boy on father's shoulder
    Article
     
    Child with red rash on cheeks
    Slideshow
    girl thinking
    Article
     

    Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

    Loading ...

    Sending your email...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    babyapp
    New
    Child with adhd
    Slideshow
     
    rl with friends
    fitSlideshow
    Syringes and graph illustration
    Tool