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Poor Weight Gain

What is Poor Weight Gain?

Poor weight gain is your child’s failure to attain weight at a normal rate that is appropriate for their age. It is a medical condition where your child is persistently below the ideal weight range for the developmental stage and does not meet recognized standards of growth. Poor weight gain is usually associated with undernutrition. 

Causes of Poor Weight Gain

Poor weight gain can be associated with various factors. These include but are not limited to:

  • Undernutrition due to poor feeding, swallowing difficulties, problems with nutrient absorption and use, or loss of nutrients through vomiting or diarrhea
  • Medical problems (premature birth, heart, lung or metabolic issues, etc.)
  • Increased energy expenditure or metabolic rate associated with conditions such as hyperthyroidism
  • Long-term (chronic) infections or illness 
  • Anemia or other blood disorders
  • Genetic disorders or abnormalities 
  • Complications of pregnancy including low birth weight
  • Psychiatric or behavioral problems such as autism 
  • Social problems at home (stress, poverty, etc.)
  • Emotional deprivation (parental hostility, rejection or withdrawal) 
  • Economic problems or living condition issues 

Signs and Symptoms of Poor Weight Gain

Poor weight gain may be associated with:

  • Reduced height for age 
  • Poor muscle development
  • Poor motor skills
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Learning difficulties
  • Behavior problems 
  • Loose folds of skin
  • Hair loss
  • Delayed puberty 
  • Symptoms associated with underlying medical conditions

Diagnosing Poor Weight Gain

Poor weight gain is a sign of failure to thrive and is diagnosed if your child’s weight is found to be lower than what is expected during periodic evaluations. Your doctor will identify if it is related to an underlying medical condition or social factors. The diagnosis may be made in consultation with registered dietitians, feeding therapists, and other pediatric specialists. Sometimes a cause cannot be identified.

Your child’s symptoms and clinical history are considered. The evaluation may include:

  • Medical history and physical exam (including growth chart comparison)
  • Evaluation of diet or feeding
  • Developmental history
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Imaging studies such as X-rays and other tests as appropriate

Treatment of Poor Weight Gain 

Treatment options for poor weight gain vary and mainly depend on the cause and severity of the condition, overall health of your child and the family environment.

Potential treatment options include:

  • Resolving the underlying medical condition 
  • Prescribing nutritional supplements or a special diet to boost growth
  • Counseling and training the parents on appropriate nutritional techniques 
  • Educating the parents on improving family dynamics and/or bonding 
  • Consulting social service providers to improve living conditions
  • Hospital admission and nourishment through feeding tubes in severe cases

Once your child’s weight reaches the normal level, your doctor may involve a team of additional healthcare providers such as occupational therapists, physical therapists and other specialists to help keep your child’s growth on track.