Failure-to-thrive is when a child is not growing as expected. The child's height and weight is often below that of other children their age.
Failure-to-thrive is caused by a lack of nutrition. This may be from:
This problem is more common in babies who are born very early and those who are born with a low birth weight. Other things that may raise a child's risk are:
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
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Family and social risk factors may be:
The main symptom is slowed growth height and weight growth. Other problems may be:
You will be asked about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will include measurements of height, weight, and body mass. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
More tests may be done to look for what is causing the problem.
Any underlying problems causing failure-to-thrive will be treated. The goal of treatment will be to improve nutrition and boost growth. This can be done with:
Family and social support may also be needed. This can be done with parent training and family counseling.
The risk of failure-to-thrive may be lowered with regular doctor visits to check for growth problems.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Public Health Agency of Canada
Failure to thrive. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
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Updated November 2014. Accessed January 10, 2020.
Failure to thrive in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/failure-to-thrive-in-children. Updated October 23, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2020.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline on recognition and management of faltering growth. NICE 2017 Sep:NG75.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 8/21/2020