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Failure to Thrive

What is failure to thrive? 

Failure to thrive is defined as decelerated or arrested physical growth and is associated with poor developmental and emotional functioning. Organic failure to thrive occurs when there is an underlying medical cause. Non organic (psycho social) failure (NOFTT) to thrive occurs in a child who is usually younger than 2 years old and has no known medical condition that causes poor growth.

What causes non organic failure to thrive?

Psychological, social, or economic problems within the family almost always play a role in the cause of NOFTT. Emotional or maternal deprivation is often related to the nutritional deprivation. The mother or primary caregiver may neglect proper feeding of the infant because of preoccupation with the demands or care of others, her own emotional problems, substance abuse, lack of knowledge about proper feeding, or lack of understanding of the infant's needs.

Who is affected by failure to thrive?

Risk for developing non organic failure to thrive include mother or primary caregiver with any, or several, of the following conditions present

  • depression
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • psycho social stress
  • lack of affection or warmth shown towards infant

What are the symptoms of failure to thrive?

  • lack of appropriate weight gain
  • irritability 
  • easily fatigued
  • excessive sleepiness
  • lack of age-appropriate social responsive (i.e., smile)
  • avoids eye contact
  • lack of molding to the mother's body
  • does not make vocal sounds
  • delayed motor development

The symptoms of failure to thrive may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is failure to thrive diagnosed?

It is usually discovered and diagnosed by the infant's physician. Infants are always weighed and measured when seen by their physicians for well-baby check-ups. The physician initiates a more complete evaluation when the infant's development and functioning are found to be delayed.

Treatment for failure to thrive

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of your child's symptoms
  • cause of the condition
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Prevention of failure to thrive

Community efforts to educate and encourage people to seek help for their problems may help to reduce the incidence of NOFTT. Encouraging parenting education courses in high school and educational and community programs may help new parents enter parenthood with an increased knowledge of an infant's needs.