Growth Delay: What Is It? How Do You Treat It?

Growth delay is defined by when your child isn’t growing at the normal rate for their age.  Usually noticed when they get a little older and are compared to other children their age. Growth delay can be caused by a few different things.  If your child is under the 5th percentile in height, meaning that 95% of children their age are taller than them, then they may have an actual growth delay.  Growth delays don’t have to be just in height, they may actually be the right height for their age, but the rate of growth is slow.  These growth delays are usually caused by an underlying condition. 

Now some children are just short.  That is ok.  There are two things that can cause growth delays, that aren’t necessarily considered a growth delay.  One is called constitutional growth delay which is when your child is tiny, but they are growing at a normal rate.  The other one is familial short stature.  This is when you have two short parents, usually resulting in a short child.  Both of these are normal reasons for a growth delay for your child to not be on the normal growth rate for their age. 

  • Normal growth looks like from 0-12 months growing approximately 10inches. 
  • 1-2 years old  growing approximately 5inches. 
  • 2-3 years old approximately growing 3 ½ inches. 
  • Then from age 3 till puberty growing about 2 inches per year.  



There are a few things you will want to have prepared before going to the doctor if you suspect your child has a growth delay.  Your doctor will want to get a full medical history from you.  Including information about the mother’s pregnancy, birth weight and length, and family heights.  They will also want to know about other family members if they suffer from some type of growth delay.  If you have had the same pediatrician or doctor throughout your child’s entire life, they will have tracked their growth and may notice something as well.  After a family history your doctor may want to track your child’s growth over a six month period.  Blood tests can be done to show if there is an underlying condition, a hormonal imbalance or a thyroid imbalance.  In some cases your doctor may want to admit your child overnight into the hospital to have growth hormone testing.  This is done overnight because the growth hormone production mostly happens while sleeping.  Another thing you can try is a bone age X-ray.  



There are a lot of different causes of a growth delay.  One of the main ones is a Growth Hormone deficiency.  This means your body cannot sustain the normal amount of the hormone needed for normal growth. 

Hypothyroidism is another cause of growth delay.  The thyroid is in charge of releasing hormones in the body, so an underactive thyroid which is what you get when you have Hypothyroidism, doesn’t release enough growth hormone into the body. 

Turner syndrome is a genetic condition that can affect females.  It is when you don’t have all of the X chromosomes.  Your body still makes the growth hormone but it doesn’t know what to do with the hormone. 

Other not so common causes are digestive tract illness, kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, severe stress, down syndrome, skeletal dysplasia, anemia, malnutrition or failure to thrive.  


Printable Girls Growth Chart 2-20 Years

Printable Boys Growth Chart 2-20 Years



The main symptom of a growth delay is being smaller than other classmates.  The next main symptom is when being measured at a doctor’s appointment being in the 3-5th percentile in height.  Or after being measured you aren’t growing as much as you were. 

Other symptoms are dependent on the cause of the growth delay.  If dwarfism is a factor it can cause disproportions in the arms and legs.  If you suffer from low hormone levels you may also have low energy, constipation, dry skin, dry hair, or trouble staying warm.  If you have low levels of the growth hormone this could affect your facial growth causing you to look younger than you are.  A stomach or bowel disease could lead to having blood in the stool, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or nausea. 

In younger children if they have failure to thrive or malnutrition another symptom could be slow physical development.  This could include rolling over, sitting up, standing, or walking.  They could also have delayed social and mental skills or delayed puberty later on.  



Early treatment can help kids catch up to their peers.  Treatment is mostly dependent on what the underlying cause is of the growth delay.  There are thyroid replacement pills if you have Hypothyroidism.  There are Growth hormone injections that you may have to take for several years to help you catch up.  These usually can be done at home, given by an adult. 

With treatment your child may reach a normal height.  If left untreated your child could stop growing altogether.  If you don’t treat it until after puberty when the bones have stopped growing there may be no way your child will be able to catch back up.  



Growth delays are usually caused by something else.  Sometimes a child can just be tiny and small and it is not a growth delay.  Making sure you have normal check ups on your child can help you find abnormalities in their growth.  Easily diagnosed with some blood tests will help you know what the best course of treatment is to help your child get back on track in their growing process.  


Your child should grow around 10 inches in the first 12 months of life.



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