Baby is Not Gaining Weight: Reasons, Symptoms & Treatment

Why Your Baby Is Not Gaining Weight – Causes, Signs & Remedies

A lot of effort and concern goes into ensuring the healthy growth of a child, and steady and healthy weight gain is one of the most crucial aspects of growth. Much like weight loss, weight gain can be a difficult and tedious process.

What Is the Expected Rate of Weight Gain in Infants and Babies?

Early childhood malnutrition is one of the most severe and avoidable conditions any baby can face. Finding out whether or not your child is malnourished is the first step towards solving this problem. Using the WHO growth standards for baby growth as a benchmark is the best way to understand what healthy and unhealthy weight gain looks like for a child.

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, which uses the same standards as WHO, for baby growth, the normal standards for weight loss and weight gain for babies are as follows:

  • A newborn loses approximately 5% to 10% of their birth weight within the first week after delivery.
  • A newborn begins to put on the lost weight within the first three weeks of delivery.
  • Babies double their birth weight within the first three to four months after birth.
  • Boys can gain almost three times their birth weight within the first year, while girls can take up to sixteen months to triple their birth weight.
  • Within the first year, your baby’s birth length is expected to increase by one and a half times.
  • Your baby’s head circumference is expected to increase by almost 11 inches before or around his first birthday.

Note: These are guidelines based on a UN study and variations in your baby’s growth can be expected. If your baby does not meet these standards, please contact your doctor for a better understanding of whether or not your baby is developing naturally.

Do You Need to Worry if Your Baby Is Failing to Gain Weight?

It is important to remember that your baby is unique; no two infants are born the same. At times, a child can have a slower rate of growth. Be sure to watch your baby’s weight, however, as an extremely slow pace of growth can be a worrying sign. Talk to your child’s paediatrician, follow a healthy nutritious diet, and remember to not panic and over-feed your child. Inculcating healthy food habits from birth can go a long way in ensuring that your child always eats healthy.

Each child has a completely unique growth curve. So, as long as your doctors aren’t worried and your child is eating healthily, you can rest easy as his weight gain will occur based on his natural rate of growth. Slow weight gain in infants can be normal but should be monitored.

How Is Your Baby’s Weight Measured?

A baby on a weighing scale at the doctor's clinic

Using what are known as developmental milestones, doctors can begin measuring the weight of your child and assess the expected weight gain or weight loss required for healthy development. These milestones can vary from baby to baby. They not only include weight and height but other factors like when your baby first smiles, when he begins to turn his head when he hears a sound, if he can roll over when on his back, when he lifts his hands to his mouth, and if he can carry the weight of his neck without support.

The milestones are decided after your doctor gives your child a complete physical within the first two weeks. They also will ask you to keep an eye on certain developmental features like if he cries or makes any sounds. Once the exam is complete, the doctors will ask you some routine questions about the baby’s development to understand if there is a problem. If they identify a problem, they will investigate through both questions and medical tests to find the underlying cause.

Having difficulty with weight gain can be a common problem for children who are delivered prematurely. Although a child who is carried to term faces less risk of weight fluctuations during infancy, there is still a possibility of this occurring.

Reasons for a Baby Not Gaining Weight

Using the already-mentioned technique to identify if your baby is growing naturally or not, the doctor will diagnose whether your child is healthy or not. The criteria they will use to make a diagnosis are:

  • Dropping to the third percentile for weight on the growth chart the doctors have assigned to him.
  • Falling to an extremely low body mass index (BMI) which means he is below 20% of the weight he is supposed to be based on his height.
  • The baby drops more than two percentile lines on his assigned growth chart after his last check-up.

Under the circumstances, these criteria all point to a problem in weight gain. Therefore, the doctor will try to determine the cause of the slow rate of weight gain. Some of the causes of slow weight gain in babies are:

  • Problems With Feeding – The most common reason for your baby’s lack of weight gain could be that he is not feeding sufficiently or is not getting enough milk during a feed. This could be due to numerous reasons; the baby may be tongue-tied or you may have problems producing enough milk. Talking to a lactation specialist can help improve the quality of each feeding session for your baby. Before doing this, however, consult your doctor or a lactation specialist to identify the reason for either low supply of breast milk or the medical condition your child may have that is causing him to struggle with his feeding.
  • Pre-Existing Medical Conditions – The reason for your baby not gaining weight could also be due to another pre-existing condition. For example, as mentioned in the point above, your baby being tongue-tied could be one of those reasons. Another condition could be if the mother has an inverted nipple. There are numerous medical conditions that can afflict both the mother and child and result in a poor feeding session. It is recommended that you talk to your doctor and go through a full set of tests as requested by them to better identify the medical condition either you or your child may be facing. Once the cause has been identified, the doctor can help create a treatment plan to help improve the feeding cycles.

Signs and Symptoms of Baby Not Gaining Weight

The only way to know if your baby is not gaining enough weight is through regular weigh-ins and check-ups. It is also recommended that you monitor his stools, urine and feeding habits and make a note of them. If there are any irregularities, it is advisable to consult your physician.

One of the biggest signs of slow weight gain is if your baby is ill. If he shows flu-like symptoms, you may need to increase your feeding time or add an extra session. This is because he won’t be able to retain enough nutrients from his regular feeding sessions when he’s sick.

Diagnosing Slow Weight Gain in Babies

Doctors can use numerous ways to diagnose delayed weight gain in babies. Some of the common ones are as follows:

  • Your baby is in the bottom percentile of his growth chart.

The WHO chart mentioned earlier shows a graph that indicates percentiles and centiles. If your baby is in the bottom 3%, this means out of 100 babies only 3 would be either smaller than or the size of your baby. This is the fastest way to diagnose slow weight gain in babies.

  • Your baby does not weigh more between check-ups or his bi-weekly weigh-ins

This could indicate that he may be malnourished.

  • Blood tests can indicate if there is a medical reason for your baby’s slow weight gain

Doctors often apply a wait-and-watch approach before suggesting this method of diagnosis. The kind of blood test depends on the symptoms your child shows and is determined on a case by case basis.

  • Family history may be investigated.

Your doctors may question you about your family history to investigate if there may be an underlying genetic condition they need to test for that is responsible for the slow weight gain of your baby.

Does Slow Weight Gain Affect Your Baby’s Health in the Long Term?

If left unmonitored or unmanaged, poor weight gain in infants can lead to complications like:

  • Heart problems
  • Growth instability
  • Malnutrition
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Weak muscle structure
  • Lack of energy
  • Fever

It is recommended that you talk to your doctor to see if your baby is malnourished or has any underlying issue that’s causing him to put on weight very slowly. There is, however, no need to panic as there are numerous ways to combat poor weight gain in infant. Talk to your doctor for more techniques and treatments to help your child get the right kind of nourishment.

When slow weight gain extends over a period of time and into a child’s growing years, it is called ‘failure to thrive’. This means that the child could be taking in the necessary calories and nutrition but still failing to meet the weight standards of his age or height.

Another reason for slow weight gain in kids could be that they were born either prematurely and/or with abnormalities, which cause their bodies to use up more calories quickly to do even simple tasks like breathing properly. Such kids will require more attention in terms of their nutritional requirements or treatments for their medical conditions, to help them maintain their health in the long run.

What Can You Do to Increase Your Baby’s Weight?

Increasing your baby’s weight should be done slowly and in a sustained manner. Here are a few things you can do to help your baby gain the right kind of weight.


There are numerous treatment methods to help improve your baby’s weight. Some of the more common ones are:

  • Using a nipple shield to help with the feeding
  • External feeding through a dropper or bottle
  • Having medication prescribed by gastroenterologists
  • Having supplements prescribed by dieticians

Home Remedies

Sometimes, taking a wait-and-watch approach may be best for the baby’s weight gain. The doctor may, however, feel your baby needs to gain weight quickly but may not recommend medication. The best home remedy you can try in this case would be to increase the number of times you feed your baby in a day or the time you take to feed your baby.

Is Your Baby Getting Enough Nutrition Through Breastfeeding?

A mother breastfeeding her infant

In the first 3 months, if your child is being breastfed exclusively, there are some signs that can help you identify whether the baby is not gaining weight with breast milk:

  • He may be struggling to suckle on your breast and may be moving his jaws more than normal, making a sucking noise. Sometimes, you may even hear him swallowing loudly.
  • If your breasts do not feel more tender and softer than they did before feeding your baby, it might be an indication that the baby is not able to latch on properly, causing him to not feed enough.
  • If at regular weigh-ins his weight stalls or stops increasing after the first three months, it is a sign of bad nutrition.

When to Seek Medical Advice

It is recommended that you seek medical advice as soon as possible regarding your child’s weight gain issues as they could be a sign of further complications. However, there’s no need to panic, as in most cases, weight gain or loss for infants can be managed with nutritional and routine changes.

While it’s natural to worry about your baby’s slow weight gain, remember that a lot of factors are under your control. This will help you figure what’s best for him and how to manage his slow weight gain.

Also Read:

Newborn Baby Weight Gain – What’s Normal and What’s Not
Baby Boy Height & Weight Growth Chart: 0 to 12 Months

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