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Lack of Weight Gain in Children

by Sara Ipatenco

Watching your child grow is one of the greatest joys, but that happiness can be tempered if you're worried that he isn't meeting developmental milestones. Because normal weight gain helps your child's pediatrician determine how healthy your child is, it's essential to seek medical attention if your little one isn't gaining weight. While there are certainly innocent reasons your child is small, there are also several more serious causes for lack of weight gain. Identifying these will enable your child to receive treatment to correct the problem.

Normal Growth

While growth isn't the same for all children, it tends to follow a regular progression so that most children meet the same developmental milestones in the same order. Pediatricians use averages regarding height and weight, which is called a standard growth chart, to analyze how well your child is growing compared to children of the same age and gender. If your child's height and weight fall below the third percentile, which means that she's smaller than 97 percent of children her age, her doctor will determine that she doesn't have normal growth, according to KidsHealth. In some cases, your child may be small because it runs in the family or because she hasn't had a growth spurt just yet, but her pediatrician will want to figure out the exact cause.

Failure to Thrive

Failure to thrive is a condition diagnosed when your child's height and weight are significantly below other children his age and gender, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. In addition to certain medical conditions, failure to thrive can also occur because of abuse or neglect. Poor eating habits are perhaps the most common cause of failure to thrive. If your child is a very picky eater or if you allow him to eat a lot of unhealthy foods, he might not be getting the nutrients he needs to grow properly. Low socioeconomic status can also cause failure to thrive if caregivers aren't able to provide consistently nutritious meals. Exposure to certain types of infections, parasites or bacteria can also result in failure to thrive as a child recovers from the illness.

Medical Conditions

Chronic diseases, such as celiac disease or thyroid problems, can result in slow or severely delayed growth because they impact how well your child is able to absorb the nutrients she needs to develop normally. Brain or central nervous system damage can impact growth, as well. Lung and heart disorders can also cause slow growth because they impact how well your child is able to absorb oxygen. Gastroesophageal reflux and anemia are additional medical causes of lack of weight gain. A human growth hormone disorder can also cause slow weight gain. It occurs when your child's pituitary gland doesn't produce enough of the human growth hormone, which as its name suggests, plays a crucial role in how well your child grows, according to Boston Children's Hospital.

Getting Help

If you take your child to all of his regularly scheduled doctor visits, his pediatrician will notice slow weight gain right away. From there, the doctor can run tests and monitor your child to determine potential causes of his delayed growth. Once the cause has been discovered, your child can receive treatment that will give him a chance to catch up developmentally. While you go through the process, try to remain calm. In most cases, your child will catch up to his peers, and often lack of weight gain doesn't cause any long-term damage. Feed your child a nutritious and well-balanced diet, too, because that will ensure that he's getting all the nutrients he needs while you await test results.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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