3 Contributing Factors to Failure to Thrive & What to Do About It

At this point, whether it is yourself or someone you know with children, you have probably heard the term “failure to thrive.”

What is “failure to thrive” in the medical community?
This is commonly given to infants, and toddlers as development and growth are monitored by their pediatrician and something halts that progress. The progress is stopped, or it is much slower than the chart that is given as “average” for children in the same age group.

To pediatricians, this term can blame parents if they do not find an “underlying medical cause.” They will call it an environmental issue, or other neglect.

What failure to thrive means to me as an NTP
I have worked with children that have been labeled as failure to thrive. In working with their parents I have learned their parents are DESPERATE to get them to thrive. It is far from an issue of neglect in the folks that I have worked with. It is not to say that there aren’t cases of that out there of course.

To me what is really happening is a disconnect from the way we have been taught to feed ourselves and our families and what our bodies, and our children’s growing bodies, really need for nutrition.

In not really knowing how to cook, how to prepare real food, and what to choose as the most nutritious option for growth, we have caused our children to have this issue. Lack of nutritious food and then food sensitivities, will lead to digestive dysfunction which will cause lack of nutrient absorption and there you have “failure to thrive.”

Cause 1 – Poor Nutrient Sources
This is the number one thing to start with when looking at what happens with parents in feeding infants and toddlers.

Infant to Toddler
This is usually when thriving is really being looked at. Breastfeeding is truly the best way to nourish an infant. However, it isn’t always possible today and I have found that the sooner supplementing with formula has to take place the quicker the issues develop. Unfortunately, commercial formulas are VERY PROCESSED FOODS. They contain a lot of high sugar items (infants need HIGH FAT), and lack healthy fat sources in usable amounts. This type of combination in some infants sets them back a long way. They will develop sensitivities as well as digestive issues from the chemicals and the nutrient imbalance. They also do not get the healthy fats their brain needs, and the proteins needed for development. Many of us do not have an option but to either make a formula at home or buy one. So we need to work on balance as much as possible. To learn more about feeding infants and toddlers naturally check out this resource. Nourishing Traditions and Nourishing Traditions for Baby are GREAT book resources to help as well!

As soon as we can start feeding our children food, most tend to go for the high processed/sugar carb and processed food options because we are told to do so by commercials, even pediatricians and more. The great news is that when it’s time to start feeding solids, whole foods are just as easy!

Nutrient Sources We Need to Thrive
High Healthy Fats – these are omega 3 and omega 6 in balance. Rich sources of properly sourced saturated fats are necessary. We do not want processed oils, vegetable oil, canola oil, or trans fats. Grass-fed and finished sources, wild-caught sources are best. Unrefined coconut oil is another option.

Healthy whole food carbohydrate sources
These include a lot of vegetables and fruits in the whole form. You will need to judge your child’s chewing ability and choose based on that and progressively add in more items as they develop more eating skills. If you are just starting you can always puree these items in a food processor or blender to provide whole food, rich nutrient source.

Whole grains
Using some brown rice when capable, and quinoa are great sources of grains for little ones that are simple to introduce. Steer clear of the white processed kinds of any “grain.”

Healthy proteins
These are grass-fed and finished local meats. You want to choose wild-caught seafood and fish. Chicken nuggets, fries, drive-through burgers, and more are not beneficial nutrient sources for your child. Most commercial yogurts are even poor sources of protein and high sources of sugar. Be sure to look for a grass-fed yogurt, just the milk (whole fat) and probiotics should be in there. These are great to add to a puree as a baby learns to eat. These can be enjoyed in older children with spoons easily. Fresh fruit is a nice addition for natural sweetness, or if you must a tiny sprinkle of pure maple can help ease older children into yogurt.

Cause 2 – Food Sensitivities

This comes from a natural issue with these (consider it just who they are and what they can tolerate), or from the processed nature of the items they have already been fed in life.

You might find when seeking out these sensitivities they are common ingredients in processed foods (like snack packs, small animal cookies, etc) that you have been feeding your child. It may take some time, and journaling and hard focus to find your child’s sensitivities. You may need someone like me to help with that if you feel lost in the sea of food you have been feeding your child.

How to Help Food Sensitivity

The first step is eliminating the items that cause the issue. Then you replace them with a real food option. You may still find some real foods that do not work for your child, but starting with the elimination of processed and packaged foods will make a huge difference.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having “nothing” to feed your child because most of their day is out of a package, that is very typical. However, this is the chance to even introduce these great whole foods into your home! Putting bananas on the counter, apples, and having loose fruit like oranges and kiwi in the fridge to grab makes it an easy decision. You can prepackage things like berries, and pre-cut larger items into smaller packs to make it simple for yourself and the kids.

This skill and those ideas are part of what I teach as an NTP as well, specifically for your child’s situation and imbalances.

Cause 3- Digestive Dysfunction

With poor nutrient intake, and food sensitivities then comes to digestive dysfunction. This is the thing that keeps nutrients from being utilized in your body.

Your child may have developed stomach acid issues, reflux or GERD from some of these foods. This will create gut issues throughout the rest of the system, which leads to poor absorption.

If your child isn’t absorbing nutrients they will not thrive.

How to Fix Digestive Dysfunction

The help of an NTP makes this part much easier, but at home you can start by eliminating those packaged and processed foods. Taking away irritants to the system will allow it time to start to heal.

Work on introducing real, whole foods. Reduce white and processed sugar/carb sources. Add in fermented foods to promote gut balance – like yogurt, sauerkraut.

Your child might need more help in terms of probiotics, or extra b vitamins, or other mineral imbalances. These become individual – and that is where the help of a practitioner is needed.

It is possible to help your child thrive, and it can be done at home. It’s not your fault that you did what you thought was the right thing to feed your child. But the great news is – it can be in your hands to start a new way of nutrition that will help your child thrive.