In the first moments of your infant's life, health care professionals carefully check his weight, length and other critical measurements that help determine his overall health and development as a newborn. The focus on height and weight continues for the next few years to make sure your child’s growth proceeds normally. Unfortunately, some infants struggle with eating enough or utilizing the nutrients in food in order to gain weight. Treating the underlying cause of your infant’s poor weight gain can often get your baby back on track to normal growth and development.
Babies often experience normal variations in their weight gain, sometimes reaching a plateau or even losing some weight at times. However, if a baby does not gain weight for three consecutive months, her doctor may diagnose a general condition known as “failure to thrive,” and begin further evaluation to determine the cause of her slow weight gain. The evaluation may include a thorough physical exam, blood work, X-rays and other diagnostic studies.
Complications of Low Weight Gain
Problems with weight gain typically come into focus within the first several months of life, a crucial period in your baby’s development. Poor nutrition or inadequate caloric intake during this time can negatively affect a child’s mental and physical development. Kids Health notes an infant’s brain grows as much during the first year as it will during the rest of his life, and inadequate nutrition can limit crucial neurological development as well as physical growth. Undernourished children may not sit up, walk, talk or reach other developmental milestones at the expected age.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can cause irritation to the throat that makes it painful to eat. Infants sometimes develop chronic diarrhea from allergies or infection, which limits their ability to metabolize nutrients. Cystic fibrosis, chronic liver disease and celiac disease also decrease an infant’s ability to absorb vital nutrients, according to Kids Health. A milk protein intolerance or birth defects, such as cleft palate, may also limit an infant’s ability to receive adequate nutrition. Sometimes parents mistakenly restrict the amount an infant eats because they fear their child will become fat or do not give the baby enough time to finish her formula.
The treatment for babies with low weight gain depends upon the cause. Sometimes occupational therapists are consulted to help your baby overcome swallowing problems, if applicable. A nutritionist may make recommendations for your infant’s daily calorie requirements. Your baby might require surgery if he has a structural abnormality, such as pyloric stenosis, or need further evaluation and treatment by a neurologist, gastroenterologist or other specialist. Medical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, may require medication or special diets. In extreme cases, an infant may need hospitalization and tube feeding.
Talk with your physician about any concerns you have regarding your baby’s weight gain. However, many things can cause a baby to gain weight more slowly. Breastfed and bottle fed babies, for instance, often gain weight at different rates during the newborn period, according to Kids Health. Genetics may play role as well--if you and your spouse are thin, your baby may not put on weight as quickly.