From Failure to Conqueror: Diagnosis Failure to Thrive


Mother and failure, two words if placed together inherently imply wrongdoing. When my son was diagnosed with failure to thrive I was devastated and guilt ridden.

Things Don’t Go as Planned

At 4 am on November 6, 2018, I found myself soaked–my water broke. 36 weeks pregnant and not at all ready to have my son. I had no bag packed. I was at home with three children and my husband was on a business trip five hours away. This was my fourth child and I expected him to come at 40 weeks like the others. Nope! He was on the way–today. Aside from the chaos of finding care for my three other children and getting to the hospital, there was one thing missing, my husband. Being the super man he is, he arrived in time with about 2 hours to spare. Delivery was smooth; this would be my second VBAC. All was well. Healthy, happy baby boy at 6 lbs. 3 oz. Success!

He was late preterm. I did not think that mattered since he looked like a healthy little baby and I had already had three other healthy children. He passed all of his tests–except the one for jaundice. Under the lights, he went. If things didn’t improve he would not be going home with us. I was devastated, but knew God had a plan, so I prayed. While in the hospital, feeding did not go so well. The recommended light exposure compounded the feeding issue.  I spoke to the lactation consultant and I was reassured he would be fine. We finally came home together, thank GOD.

Failure to Thrive

Once home, he fed a little better and he had plenty of good diapers. He would cry with anyone but me, but seemed happy.  At his first checkup he was down to about 5 lbs. 13 oz. Babies normally lose weight at first, so I wasn’t concerned. At his one month checkup, he had barely made it back to his birth weight. Still, he had plenty of good diapers…I was perplexed and thought maybe I was doing something wrong. The pediatrician asked that I start to pump and come back in two weeks. She recorded how much milk I was producing, it was more than enough. Even so, she suggested I give him the pumped milk and nurse on demand. So without breaks, I pumped and nursed, pumped and nursed. The next and subsequent appointments were disappointing. By now, he had started to projectile vomit breastmilk and/or formula. He gained one ounce gained each visit. This was followed by a myriad of questions, the look of concern, the formula supplement requirement, and referral to a GI specialist. Diagnosis, failure to thrive.

By definition failure to thrive is a term used to describe insufficient weight gain or loss of weight and there can be a ton of underlying causes. The diagnosis and following a treatment plan can be frustrating. Between food diaries, weight checks, specialist appointments, not knowing the cause, formula supplementation, and pumping. Plus, the constant anxiety that comes with the feeling of lack. That I am not able to give my child sustenance to “thrive” is a nightmare. Remarks like, “you need to feed him more”, “how old is he, he is so small”, “are you sure you’re doing {insert suggestion here}?”, “you need to stop breastfeeding”, “I’ll fatten him up”, all came as heavy blows.  I was crushed every time my baby spit up, it meant he would plummet even lower on the dreaded growth chart, of which he wasn’t even on. And boy, did he spit up! Which later prompted a reflux diagnosis and eventually the term, “happy spitter” {picture loads of laundry, keep your worst shirts handy, stay away from strangers unless you pack an umbrella}. Medication didn’t resolve the reflux, but we pressed on with the treatment plan, which included me being out of the office indefinitely.

From Failure to Conqueror

Over the next few months, we were relieved to find out he didn’t have any underlying health issues. However, there was the constant threat of feeding tube placement or hospitalization. Per the GI instruction, I mixed pumped milk with formula powder and rice cereal. Continued with the food diaries, switched formula to avoid upset stomach. I prepared for the onset of projectile vomit with each feed and continued to nurse on demand while trying to be there for my other children. It was a rough time and I felt exhausted and alone. Around his fourth month I could visibly tell he was gaining, he had a double chin.


By 6 months, he was able to fit into 0-3 months clothing. And by 7 months, he was in 3-6 months.  Now at 8 months he is meeting his development milestones, crawling and conquering the growth chart like a boss, despite the endless trails of spit up on the carpet. Thriving. In my opinion, physicians should use a different term. The term “inadequate weight gain” doesn’t sound as scary. The phrase “failure to thrive” just seems cruel. My son didn’t fail and I didn’t fail. We just had a slow start to successful weight gain and that is ok.

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Porsha was born in Maryland and raised in Georgia, but life eventually brought her back to the Washington, D.C area. She is happily married to Reginald, and together they share five children ages 15, 8, 6, 4 and 8 months . Formerly a stay-at-home mom, she is now juggling a full-time career. However, her family always comes first! She truly believes being a mother is her most important mission. She loves laughing, cooking, planning children’s events, attending paint nights, wine, shopping and listening to live music.


  1. Yes, “Failure to Thrive” is a horrible term.
    I believe that was the term for Junior before he was placed with us. He was in the hospital for nearly 2 months after he was born. Thankfully it wasn’t a GI problem but a problem to take in enough calories. He hadn’t gotten the sucking and swallowing thing down, so for the longest he would drink and squirt out about 1/3 of what he drank.
    We had to get the Tommee Tippee absorbent bibs and some microfiber towels to catch most of the formula he was squirting out.
    Oh and goodness. The formula was this expensive, slightly hard to find type and we had to use a recipe to make it richer.
    Yes, “inadequate weight gain” is a better phrase.

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