Failure To Thrive: What Is It & How To Help

by | April 6, 2018

Most parents have the best intentions when it comes to what they feed their children, they endlessly research, read packaging labels and try to offer a large variety. However, some pediatricians may still label your child as failure to thrive. But what exactly does that mean and how can you help your littles?


First, let’s look at height and weight percentiles and what that means. Say for instance your 1 year old son is in the 60th percentile for weight, this means that 60% of 1 year old boys weigh the same or less as your son, and 40% weigh more. The same idea goes for length, if your son is in the 50th percentile for length, that means that he is of average length. Of course so much can factor into the height and weight of your child, not just diet, much of it is hereditary. If yourself and your partner are short and thin, your child may only be in the 10th percentile, which is perfectly normal considering smaller size runs in the family. Genetics, along with diseases and illnesses can be one of the many reasons for your child’s lack of weight gain or growth. Although in this article I am specifically talking about failure to thrive due to nutrition and calorie related reasons.


A big concern arises when an infant or child is consistently in a normal percentile range, and then suddenly drops down to a significantly lower percentage. Or, if a child is small and is not gaining weight at the normal rate and begins falling far behind. I must stress that failure to thrive can happen to any child, vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. Once your child dips down to the 5th percentile or lower, that’s when the pediatrician may diagnose your child as failure to thrive. As a parent, of course this can sound scary and make you feel awful but it’s important to remember that it can be resolved!


If you have a baby who is still only consuming breast milk (usually 6 months or younger), there are a few things the doctor might recommend to help boost baby’s calorie intake. For example, whether you are feeding your baby breast milk or formula, they may tell you to encourage your baby to feed more frequently. The doctor may also suggest supplementing with a high calorie formula, if you are breastfeeding, as well as consuming more healthy fats yourself. Whether you’re pumping or feeding from your breast, completely emptying one breast during a single feeding will help make sure that baby receive the fatty hind milk. It can also be helpful to seek out advice from a lactation consultant to be sure your little one has a good latch, which will be beneficial for knowing that your infant is able to receive the optimal amount of nutritious milk and not just air bubbles!


If your child is eating solid foods as well as breastfeeding, it will be helpful for your to follow the breastfeeding advice above, as well as the suggestions in this paragraph regarding solids. Children are just like us, they gain weight from the same foods as we do, although we do not want them gaining weight from the wrong kind of food. So whether your child is 8 months or 18 months, eating all solids or solids as well as breast milk, incorporating the correct fats and high calorie foods will help tremendously. Avocado, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are all wonderfully healthy and high in the good kind of fat! Adding avocado and chia seeds (and even coconut oil) to yummy fruit smoothies or homemade popsicles can be a delicious and fun way of sneaking those extra calories in. Various nut butters (my fav is almond!) on toast is super filling, and you can also use seed butters too, such as tahini. Making muffins using almond flour and a flax egg is another great idea, as is grinding up walnuts and sunflower seeds and sprinkling them into oatmeal. Also, who doesn’t love a good cashew cheese sauce? And it’s so versatile! There are endless ways to add foods in, the trick is finding a recipe that they will gladly eat. It’s not fun forcing food and nothing happy usually comes of it, so you may go through a little bit of trial and error before you find something that your little one will love! But don’t give up, continue to try to find ways to incorporate high calorie/high fat foods into the meals that they already enjoy eating.


Just because your child has been diagnosed with failure to thrive, does not mean in any way that you are neglectful parent. There is no exact reason for every child as to why they’re not gaining weight or growing as fast as other children their age. As a parent, you have been extremely responsible and attentive by being aware of your child’s growth and seeking out steps to help them thrive. You are not alone, and with the guidance of a healthcare professional or nutritionist, your little one will be just fine!


I grew up on the West Coast of Canada and currently live in Northern California with my amazing husband and our beautiful vegan daughter. I love researching all of the amazing benefits that go hand in hand with being plant based, so I was thrilled to find Raise Vegan and become an active writer for this inspiring team. When I’m not writing for Raise Vegan, you can find me on Instagram!


One Response to “Failure To Thrive: What Is It & How To Help”

  1. Vegan Linda
    August 3rd, 2018 @ 5:21 pm

    Even starving women in developing countries have thriving, breastfed babies. Failure to thrive can be a cause of B12 malabsorption which occurs in meat eaters and vegans alike.

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