Poor Growth

A child who does not develop in height and weight according to standard medical growth charts (below the third percentile for age) has poor growth. About 4 percent of children admitted to pediatric hospital have poor growth or a failure to thrive. Poor growth occurs because the child is not receiving enough calories or is not able to use the calories to grow.


The symptoms of poor growth in children may at first appear to be a typical illness. To diagnose poor growth it is important to compare children of the same age during a period of time and look for symptoms that may include:

  • Failure to gain weight
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Refusal to eat
  • Trouble swallowing


The cause of poor growth is often caused by the child not eating and drinking enough calories to help the body grow. The lack of calories can be the result of many situations such as feeding technique problems, improperly preparing formula or not enough breast milk from the mother.

Although less likely, an unknown medical condition, such as heart disease, may also cause poor growth.

How is poor growth diagnosed?

Often a parent will become aware of the difference in size between other infants their child’s age. The standard medical growth charts are also examined and a child’s weight and height are monitored during a period of time.

A physical exam is necessary to diagnose poor growth. A diet history, blood tests and monitoring at a hospital may also be used to diagnose poor growth.


Intake of calories and development is the ultimate goal of poor growth treatment. Often teaching the parents better ways of feeding their child, preparing formula or food, and breastfeeding can improve development. If the child has a disease that is causing the poor growth then that medical issue must be treated first.