Diagnosed with failure to thrive?

Failure to thrive is a diagnosis given by your doctor if your baby or child is not growing and putting on the amount of weight that would be expected. Sometimes the child will stop growing and be short in stature.

There can be many reasons for a failure to thrive, one of which is celiac disease. Due to a problem with the lining of the small intestines the celiac child cannot absorb the nutrients it requires from the food it eats.

The celiac disease symptoms in babies can be many and varied, including irritability and decreased appetite, along with diarrhoea and vomiting. In severe cases this can lead to dehydration.

If left untreated, the celiac child can develop the bloated stomach and matchstick like arms and legs more commonly seen in children living through a famine. Severe undernourishment from the malabsorption of nutrients can lead to anaemia, osteoporosis and even cancer, in later life.

Failure to thrive was one of the reasons my mother took me to the doctors when I was a baby and my story is echoed by that of Val from Canada.

Val shares her daughter's celiac story below.

"My daughter, Vivianne, was born at 7lbs 13.5oz, and was happy and healthy.

Her symptoms started to appear at around 5 months old with very bad gas and horrid diapers, then progressed to her no longer gaining any weight.

She saw the doctor many times for what we thought was the flu, and her lack of weight gain was chalked up to being because of this. But by the age of 9 months she still weighed the same as at 5 months old and the doctor was finally prepared to agree that there was a problem due to a failure to thrive.

I was instructed to put her onto a gluten free diet and a biopsy was booked. Having only a limited knowledge of celiac disease I decided to make my own gluten free baby food from only fruit and veggies.

During the biopsy scarring was found in her intestines. Due to her having been on a gluten free diet for some time before the biopsy, the doctors could not confirm 100% that the scarring was due to celiac disease. However, they believed this was the problem and I was instructed to treat her as a celiac baby even without a definite diagnosis."

Val brings us up to date on Vivianne's progress

"After years of reading up on celiac disease and talking to any doctor who would listen, we are coping well with the diet.

But due to the inconclusive biopsy result, I still wonder sometimes if I am depriving my daughter of normal food like birthday cakes.

I have now found some doctors who are prepared to retest her, but this just creates more turmoil in my heart. Part of me feels terrible not allowing her to eat normal food, while I also worry that feeding her normal food could make her ill."

Val passes on these encouraging words

"My daughters situation is not an ideal one, but we have adjusted and are just as happy together as I believe we would be if she weren't a celiac. So I encourage people to embrace their differences and be happy, healthy, and thankful that following a gluten free diet is just a life style."


Celiac disease is just one cause of failure to thrive, please visit your doctor if your child is underweight or not growing properly. Sharon has a site about feeding underweight children which talks about many other causes.

More celiac stories

If you would like to read more celiac stories, or share your own, please see the celiac disease page, and for reader contributions see celiac disease symptoms in babies and young children.

- - Failure to Thrive


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