Parents always want to see their child chubby, happy, and glowing with health as their kid grows. However, some children struggle to gain weight in the initial years which is not a good sign. Different children grow at their respective pace. And, it is important to evaluate why is your little bundle of joy is not putting enough kilos at his or her respective age if you find your kid underweight.
Low birth weight has been a common concern which is most commonly observed in the developing countries. According to the statistics, India witnesses about 7 million low birth babies every year. Malnutrition is still a major problem faced by the developing countries. The reason is a vicious cycle which has trapped the population making the health of the child still the greatest concern. Its cause starts from a primary level i.e. a low literacy rate leading to low socio-economic condition, this causes a lack of awareness about food and sanitation further leading to frequent infections and malabsorption of whatever food is eaten. Needless to say, the quality and quantity of food intake are poor which add fuel to the fire.
The birth weight of a baby is the direct indicator of the overall health status of the baby. Each child is different; even twins have their own independent pace of growth. Some children may put on consistent weight as they develop, while some may take their own time. But, I see many mothers in my office who complain that the child in her neighbourhood who is of the same age as her child looks plump and healthier than hers. Often, many mothers question me, “Why is my child not gaining enough weight just like his peer in spite of feeding him sufficient and good quality food”. Their worry is obvious, but I always tell them that it is not only the quality of food but many others factors which contribute to the failure in gaining an appropriate weight for age, height, and their gender.
Several factors can contribute to a child’s struggle with weight gain, prompting a need for careful consideration and intervention. First and foremost, inadequate calorie intake may result from picky eating habits or feeding difficulties, impacting the overall nutritional balance. Additionally, underlying medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease), can hinder nutrient absorption, impairing weight gain.
Metabolic issues, such as thyroid disorders or diabetes, may influence the body’s energy utilization, affecting weight. Eating patterns can be disrupted by emotional factors such as stress or anxiety, further complicating the situation. Insufficient physical activity, though less common, can contribute to a lack of muscle mass development.
Furthermore, genetics play a role, influencing metabolism and body composition. Understanding these multifaceted reasons is crucial for individualized intervention. Paediatricians can conduct comprehensive assessments, considering medical history, dietary habits, and potential underlying conditions. Addressing these factors through a combination of nutritional guidance, medical treatment, and behavioral support ensures a holistic approach to promote healthy weight gain, fostering the child’s overall well-being and development.
6 Major Reasons Why Your Child Is Not Gaining Weight:
- Child Does Not Eat Well:
I have heard mothers commonly lamenting that “Doc, my child does not eat well”. This is a very vague statement but holds a great importance in the child’s health graph. There are many reasons lurking in the background that may be overlooked or misunderstood. Knowing and understanding your child’s psychology plays an important role in feeding your child well and observing an improvement in his/her health. This is most commonly observed in children having developmental delays and autistic children who cannot recognize the texture and taste of food. If your child throws food tantrums, it again deprives your kid of getting adequate nutrition. Often, some mothers say that “Doc, my child eats whatever you feed him outside, but, it the same food is made at home, he rejects outrightly”. Your motherly love might end up offering your child’s favourite food which lacks essential nutrients. In this way, you give your child a reason to have access to convenient food which may not always be nutritious. How you have trained your child to eat also makes a big difference. Training your child to give enough time for his food, teaching him the importance of the food he eats, and telling him to chew food properly are some small but significant tips which might help your child gain interest in having his food.
This is the second reason which needs to be ruled out if your child is not gaining adequate weight required for his age. Your child may complain of intermittent abdominal pain, diarrhoea, foul-smelling stools passing with gas, and vomiting. Eventually, he gets prone to frequent infections due to the lowered immunity. Malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, are some autoimmune diseases which have similar symptomatology. Seek the help of a pediatrician who would investigate and diagnose it in order to decide the appropriate treatment.
- Poor History Of Breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding is a gift to the newborn baby given by his mother. It is a panacea to the infant which protects him from infections thereby boosting his immunity. Poorly fed babies may end up having a poor immunity and in future may fall prey to frequent stomach infections which may prevent them from gaining weight.
- Diseases Of The Gastrointestinal Tract:
Some common diseases found these days in children are gastroesophageal reflux, gluten sensitivity, and liver pathologies which severely affect the child’s nutrition which contributes to the underweight condition in kids. In gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the food eaten regurgitates back into the mouth due to esophageal irritation and weak sphincter of the stomach. As a result, the food fails to settle into the stomach, hence there is no food available for digestion and absorption. Allergic conditions such as gluten sensitivity cause the failure of absorption of a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat. This causes diarrhoeaa whenever the child consumes products made from wheat or maida. Diarrhea further gives a reason for the food to pass undigested and makes it difficult for the body to hold the calories back.
- Prematurity & Low Birth Weight:
In these two conditions, the child’s gut is not fully developed to take up all the nutrition he needs. Hence, though he might be eating everything you give him, it may not be completely absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. If your child is born premature or was low weight at birth, the primary food i.e. breast milk also may not be consumed as desired due to poorly developed suckling reflex. So, the kid’s low weight story starts right from here, because the child did not receive enough breast milk. Whatever amount of milk he received could not be efficiently absorbed by the underdeveloped gut, resulting in poor nutrition.
Also Read: Is my Child Sick or Faking it?
- Undiagnosed Health Problems:
As a parent, you always have your seven senses active when it comes to your child’s health. But, many diseases may be still lurking somewhere into your child’s body and may go undiagnosed. Such disease conditions can be a major reason in preventing your child from putting on an adequate weight for his age. The past history of inadequate breast milk supply due to mother having inverted nipple, a child having tongue-tie, etc. can be other reasons for the underweight condition in kids. The child may suffer from respiratory, endocrine, and, most importantly, gastrointestinal diseases which might be overlooked or misdiagnosed by the physician or parents, and such diseases can prevent your child from gaining sufficient weight. Some parents may consider respiratory infections, like frequent colds, as normal and treat it at home without seeking medical help. Another common complaint which most mothers have is that their child does not pass stools regularly. This condition is termed as constipation, which is again a sign of disturbed digestion. So, your child to remain underweight since he might not eat well as he may not have cleared his bowels. Due to this, he may suffer from decreased appetite, bloating, gas, and discomfort which he might not be able to explain to you.
Weight gain foods for kids:
1) Protein powerhouses: Prioritize lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Protein is vital for muscle development, and incorporating it into meals supports overall growth.
2) Whole grains: Choose whole-grain options like oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread. These provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, and essential nutrients, ensuring a sustained release of energy.
3) Healthy fats: Include sources of healthy fats in the diet, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats contribute to calorie density, aiding in weight gain and providing crucial nutrients.
4) Fruit and Veggie variety: Encourage a diverse range of fruits and vegetables. These not only offer essential vitamins and minerals but also supply fiber for digestive health.
5) Nutrient-rich snacks: Integrate nutrient-dense snacks like yogurt, cheese, and nut butter. These options provide extra calories and essential nutrients between meals.
6) Balanced diet: Emphasize the importance of a well-balanced diet, incorporating a mix of food groups in each meal. This approach ensures that children receive a broad spectrum of nutrients necessary for their overall health and development.
Incorporating these nutrient-rich foods into a child’s diet, coupled with regular meals and snacks, supports healthy weight gain and contributes to their overall well-being. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dietary recommendations based on the child’s specific needs.
Tips for supporting weight gain in children:
Beyond focusing on dietary measures, several lifestyle factors contribute to healthy weight gain in kids. Regular physical activity is crucial, promoting muscle development and appetite stimulation. Encourage activities like biking, swimming, or sports. Adequate sleep is equally important, as it aids in growth and overall well-being. Minimize sugary beverages and prioritize water intake for hydration. Establish consistent meal and snack times, creating a positive and stress-free eating environment. Additionally, consider consulting with healthcare professionals to rule out any underlying medical issues and to explore appropriate supplements if necessary. Address emotional aspects, as stress or anxiety can impact eating habits. Parental support and positive reinforcement play a key role, fostering a healthy relationship with food. By incorporating these holistic approaches, parents can create a conducive environment for children to gain weight healthily and thrive.
Your attitude towards your child’s eating habits is the basis of how he builds his food regime. I wish to tell all mothers out there that talking to your child about health as a topic is very important. Communicate with him about the benefits of eating healthy food. Take some time out at the end of the week to narrate stories about how home-cooked food is the best food to your kid. Allow him to help you in the kitchen so that he becomes aware of the available foods, thereby educating him about their benefits for a good health. Doing this exercise will act as a double-edged sword; at one end there would be no food tantrums, your child will be friends with the foods that you want him to eat, and, yes, no more forced-feeding would be required. Also, you will know your child ffavouritefoods and desires, and you will start knowing his body closely, thus, you will know the actual status of his health. This will leave no stone unturned in finding any ailment in your child’s body that is preventing him from gaining enough weight. In this way, your child will definitely develop a fancy for healthy food and you will be astonished to see him grow healthy and happy. If you planning to take medication then you may prefer homeopathy treatment for safe and better results. Happy Mommying!
-Written by Dr. Kanchan, Associate doctor to Dr. Rajesh Shah