Failure to Thrive

A failure to thrive diagnosis in your baby just sucks.

When I was still pregnant with Zach, a friend was dealing with some heavy-duty health issues with his young son–vomiting and weight loss (later diagnosed as food allergies). I remember when they got the failure to thrive diagnosis…how my friend said it was like being told they were failures as parents; failures at nurturing. My heart ached for them even then, and I could not have known how fully I would own that statement in my future.

Elliot was born at 7 lbs 7 oz–a small baby compared to Zach’s 8lbs 13oz. Despite pretty severe jaundice (we have different blood types) he nursed like it was his job and gained 10 oz within his first week of life. Basically, I nursed the jaundice right out of him because there was no way in hell I was going to put him in what I called the sunlamp suitcase for 24 hours a day.

By two months old (and only 8 lbs and some change)– so a small kid to be sure–the pediatrician was just starting to get worried. Her recommendation was to continue to constantly nurse him, but that because he was alert and happy, we would wait and re-assess at the 4 month visit. We both conceded that the fruit of my family tree are smallish–some of us, at least–and that BF babies are often long and lean, aka, banana babies.

At the 4 month visit he was 9.9 lbs and she was more concerned. In addition to the now-firm, slow-to-grow diagnosis, we were starting to monitor his rather infrequent bowel movements. From a cloth diapering standpoint, his irregularity was kind of awesome. From the slow-growth standpoint, not so much. See BF babies don’t always poo as much as formula fed ones and when he did go, there were none of the classic signs of a food allergy.

At this point, he had dipped a little on the growth curve, but just a very little and we ended up having to go in for weight checks every 3 days or a period of two weeks. He did okay–not great (by her own words)–but, again, the child wasn’t listless and we both felt comfortable with continuing breastfeeding sans formula (I love that about my pediatrician, by the way).

However, by six months he was all of 11.8 lbs and his growth curve for both weight and height had flat-lined. That was the day she diagnosed him as Failure to Thrive (FTT). That was the same day that she stayed in the exam room long past our allotted 15 minutes of appointment time and hugged/reassured me as I cried on the head of my youngest son. Even now, light-years later, I can remember what I was wearing (green shirt, purple moby), what Elliot was wearing (light blue plaid romper with a blue t-shirt underneath), and what she was wearing (dark brown skirt, boots and a white shirt). How stupid that I can remember that, but the scene of that room is stamped in my head as clearly as the proverbial photograph. I can’t even say I was surprised by the diagnosis–I knew it was coming. Yet, despite knowing, my whole heart fell out and just flopped, lifeless, on the floor.

It was also the day that began all of the tests for why he wasn’t gaining weight: blood, for what I cannot even remember, and urinalysis, which for infants is done by taping a bag around their genitals until they urinate. He was referred for a cystic fibrosis test. And when that one came back inconclusive thanks to the ineptitude of the lab techs, he had another (this one was negative).

That was also the day that I stopped eating dairy, (I had already stopped all legumes after he broke out in hives an hour after I ate some hummus), eggs, and soy. We started supplementing with formula–Alimentum, specifically–but he wouldn’t drink it from me. Not that I can blame him–the stuff smells like canned cat food.

I’ve had people question why I continued to breastfeed instead of switching to formula. Questioning it to the tune of, “why are you starving your kid, you damn hippie.” I’ve had people reassure me, before and after the FTT diagnosis, that he was “just fine” and that “all doctors are quacks”.

Yeah, neither was true. He wasn’t just fine, he was failing. It wasn’t my fault, it was a severe milk sensitivity that didn’t present normally (he is, after all, MY kid). You know what else is a common allergen? Corn. You know what’s in formula? Yep, corn. As a mom whose baby was already starting to exhibit strong food allergy/sensitivities I had a hard time just giving up and putting him on something with a high-allergen ingredient.

Of course I was filled with self-doubt and guilt while all of the test were still out at the various labs. What good is having ginormous boobs (EE cup at the time) if they aren’t doing their job? Had I caused all of this by not nursing him often enough thanks to that other kid that lived with us?

But he wasn’t just laying on a blanket and staring dull-eyed at the wall. He was moving, participating, and meeting every other milestone.

As it turned out, all of the medical tests were negative and about two weeks of my giving up dairy he had gained 13 oz. Our culprit, it seemed, had been identified.

I made it dairy free until he was about 8 months old and he continued to gain weight and inch his way back up to his normal curve. But the stress of it all– while chasing a 2 1/2 year old AND nursing every 90 minutes–killed my supply anyway and I reluctantly weaned him completely by the time he was 8.5 months old. Had the formula advocates* been right, he would have gained 10 lbs that first month of formula, which he did not.

*I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against formula. Just as I would hope that those that use formula have absolutely nothing against breast-milk.*

We all got excited when he finally got back on the growth curve, though he’s never, ever gotten above the 5th% for weight. Even now, at almost 22 months old, he’s only 23 lbs. He is, however, 33 inches tall–my banana baby until the end.

I’m glad he got breast-milk as long as he did. I do believe that every ounce he got helped him not be allergic to milk and soy (yes still to the eggs) at the one year mark. I’m really glad that my pediatrician had gone through the exact same thing with her own child. I’m really, really glad that she is a strong supporter of breastfeeding and, as his doctor, thought I was doing what was best for him by continuing to nurse him. Having medical support for your choices when almost everyone else believes you to be wrong was without words.

Him then, at six months.

Him last month, at 21 months.

5 thoughts on “Failure to Thrive

  1. My sweet 6 month old is in the same boat. I gave up dairy & gluten a month ago and her diarrhea and gas has cleared up but I don’t think she’s gained any weight. We go in tomorrow and I’m bracing myself for what I know is coming. And hoping it’s not more serious.

  2. Pingback: They Call Me Mom | | ScattermomScattermom

  3. Just reading through your old posts here- loved your posts about the storm/beach. Anyway, just wanted to say that Gwen was really smallish for her first couple of years. She just eeked over 20 lbs at 2 yo. She is no longer considered “petite” according to her ped, though, & has gone up the charts a bit more and is now a small-to-average 4 yo. So who knows what will happen, she surprised me. 🙂 Despite her steady diet of fruit and air, according to dh. 😉

  4. Seeing those two pictures at the end just made me smile so big. He is so beautiful. And healthy!!!

    You’re a good mama. Don’t ever doubt that! I remember going through the same feelings when Ashe had issues that turned out to be milk and soy allergies. It hits you hard like you did something wrong to this precious little being who literally depends on you to keep them healthy and safe. Point blank it sucks.


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