Failure to Thrive in Children With Cerebral Palsy

As anyone who has observed a baby in the first few years of life has seen, young children tend to grow more in the first few years than at any other time in life. Even perfectly healthy children do not grow and gain weight at the exact same rate, but in pediatric medicine, there are degrees of acceptability to that growth. When a child either fails to gain weight or gains weight at a rate significantly below the norm, this is cause for concern and medically referred to as “failure to thrive.” This condition can be indicative of many things, but can be one of the early warning sign of cerebral palsy (CP).

Failure to thrive can be categorized as either organic (resulting from medical issues such as a disease or disability that prevents the child from taking in or using calories for appropriate growth and weight gain) or non-organic (resulting from abuse, neglect or other environmental factors). Here we’ll explore organic failure to thrive as it pertains to the development of cerebral palsy.

There are a number of organic causes of failure to thrive including:

1) Damage to the brain or complications of the central nervous system

2) Cerebral palsy

3) Genetic issues

4) Chromosomal issues

5) Pulmonary or cardiopulmonary issues

6) Blood disorders such as anemia

7) Gastrointestinal problems

8) Chronic infections

Cerebral Palsy can affect the part of a child’s brain that controls their growth and development. It can prevent them from absorbing calories and nutrients in a way that is beneficial to their growth. They may also have motor or muscular issues that prevents them from swallowing normally or keeps them from getting the level of exercise required for normal growth.

There are many symptoms to failure to thrive. The earlier this condition is caught, the sooner corrective and therapeutic measures can be taken to ensure the child is receiving and processing the nutrition it needs.

Some of the symptoms of failure to thrive, other than lack of appropriate weight gain, include: irritability, excessive sleepiness and fatigue, avoidance of eye contact, lack of vocal sounds and delayed motor development. There are numerous standard growth charts and norms for parents and physicians to compare a child’s progress to. Statistically, most babies double their birth weight by 4 months and triple it by age one. If your child fails to achieve this goal or fails other standard charts, which should include their own established growth curve, it should be brought to the attention of their doctor.

If your child is diagnosed with failure to thrive, the next step is to determine the underlying medical cause. One of the things that will help your child’s doctor (or dietician, if suggested) assess your child’s nutritional needs is by your keeping own accurate records of the child’s height, weight and growth patterns as well as their dietary history. Sometimes a very minor change in your child’s food intake will improve their growth rate.

The doctor may preform tests specifically designed to indicate developmental delays (such as the Denver Developmental Screening Test) or other underlying causes for failure to thrive (such as urinalysis, tests for blood counts and electrolyte imbalance, checking for other blood conditions such as sickle cell disease (SCD), tests for kidney and bone disease).

Treatments for children suffering from failure to thrive depend largely on the cause. The medical reason for the delay in growth will determine the path of treatment, which could include special diets, corrective surgery, physical therapy, occupational therapy or other medical mediation.

The principal goal of failure to drive and cerebral palsy treatment is to ensure the child receives and process caloric and nutritional intake sufficient to support a healthy growth rate. Any adjustments to your child’s diet should be done in consultation with your child’s doctor.