Faltering growth in babies
The causes of faltering growth are multifactorial
Infancy marks a period of rapid growth in which nutrient requirements (per kg body weight) are proportionally higher than at any other time during life. Young children are therefore more vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition, and early diagnosis and intervention are key1. Faltering growth may be caused by inadequate intake (undernutrition) due to a variety of feeding difficulties, medical conditions with associated increased requirements (e.g. Cystic Fibrosis or congenital heart disease), or malabsorption2,3.
A commonly used definition of faltering growth is based upon using the 2009 UK-World Health Organisation (WHO) growth charts, where a sustained drop of weight through two or more centiles is not a normal pattern and requires careful assessment3,4.
Early growth faltering may have long-term health implications5,6
Faltering growth in early infancy (before 8 weeks) has been shown to be associated with persisting deficits in IQ at age 8 years5, as well as slower rate of height gain throughout childhood6. Infants with faltering growth in later infancy remain shorter and lighter throughout childhood6. Screening for, and early identification of malnutrition is therefore important to support prompt initiation of nutritional treatment to achieve better outcomes7.
The importance of protein: energy ratio for optimal catch-up growth
The goal of nutritional management in faltering growth is to achieve catch-up growth in order to sustain normal development; through improved protein and energy intake and correction of micronutrient deficiencies. WHO guidelines recommend that 8.9-11.5% of energy should be provided as protein to provide optimal catch-up growth8. Challenges arise as these infants have an increased need for higher calorie intakes, but are unable to manage large fluid volumes. Energy dense, low-volume formulae have been developed to address these needs.
Gastrointestinal tolerance of High Energy formulas is key
Good gastrointestinal tolerance of high energy formulas is important for maximising nutritional intake. Whey dominant formulas, containing partially hydrolysed protein promote a shorter gastric emptying time making the formula easy to digest9. The UK Department of Health and Irish Health Service Executive also recognises that whey protein is easier to digest10,11. An SN-2 enriched fat blend structurally resembles the fat that is found in breast milk and is well absorbed by infants. As the fats are more easily absorbed, formulas containing an SN-2 enriched fat blend have demonstrated improved fat and calcium absorption, and softer stools in both vulnerable and healthy paediatric populations12-15.
View summary of the NICE guidelines on the recognition and management of faltering growth in children that launched in September 2017.
The full guidelines can be found here
- Agostoni C, Axelson I, Colomb V, Goulet O, Koletzko B, Michaelsen KF et al. (2005). JPGN 41, 8–11.
- Sullivan PB and Goulet O. EJCN (2010) 64, S1.
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- J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 41, 8–11.The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health UK - WHO growth charts, 2009. www.growthcharts.rcpch.ac.uk. Accessed January 2017.
- Emond A, et al. PEDIATRICS 2007: Volume 120, Number 4.
- Din Z et al. PEDIATRICS 2013; Volume 131, Number 3.
- Joosten K and Meyer R. EJCN (2010) 64, S22–S24.
- WHO/FAO/UNU Report of a Joint Expert Consultation. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition. Technical Report Series No. 935. World Health Organisation 2007;185–193.
- Billeaud C, Guillet J, Sandler B.. Eur J ClinNutr 1990; 44 (8): 577-83.
- NHS Choices. Types of formula milk. (2016). Available here. Accessed January 2017.
- HSE, 2007. Available here. Accessed February 2017.
- Carnielli VP et al. AJCN (1995b): 62: 776-81.
- Carnielli VP et al. JPGN (1996);23(5): 553-60.
- Lucas et al. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed (1997);77: F178-184.
- Kennedy K et al. Am J ClinNutr 1999;70:920–7.
*National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence