Over the course of time, in championing the “wellness”  cause for children especially babies and toddlers, WellBaby has discovered that one of the strongest indicators of the state of a baby’s health is the weight. And these red flags show up even right from the womb.

Usually, there are 2 major instances of weight challenges. Being overweight or being underweight.

The best way to determine either is by calculating your child’s BMI (Body Mass Index) where the ratio of the weight as against the height is calculated by a doctor.

It is misleading to just assume your child has a weight problem. If for any reason you suspect your child has any weight challenge,you will need to determine first from a medical professional.


“We do not live to eat, we eat to live” – anonymous

Being overweight or obese is a function mostly of nurture though a child is usually predisposed to being overweight when one or both parents are overweight. There is an erroneous belief especially in Africa that a big baby is a healthy baby. However, there are health risks to being overweight, such as obesity, diabetes and heart related problems.

photocredit: ackermans.com

Obese children should be helped towards attaining a healthy weight and this can be done by encouraging a healthy lifestyle devoid of processed sugar and fats. Habits that encourage activity should be imbibed. It’s important that the whole family is involved in this.

We are quite aware that being overweight has serious health implications, however there seems to be another with far reaching risks.


“If nature had intended our skeletons to be visible, it would have put them on the outside of our bodies” – anonymous

Do you know that being underweight portends more health risks for your child? Such as bone related problems (very low bone density leading to frequent fractures) and cardiovascular problems. The immune system is also attacked whereby they are easily predisposed to illnesses.

malnourished baby. photocredit: whatlizdidnext

According to a study undertaken by 2 professors from the University of Essex, Ayodele Ogunleye and Gavin Sandercock, the condition of being underweight isn’t taken as seriously as it should.  They also discovered that most practitioners are unable to determine when a child is underweight.

A child is said to be underweight when it is noticed that he is gaining weight at a slower rate than other children of same age and sex. Do note however, there are instances of children who from birth do not just gain weight at all, while some rapidly slow down after a while of normal growth.

Usually this is as a function of malnutrition, which is when a child is not consuming the right amount of calories and nutrients. However other factors (such as medical conditions and social issues) are potential causes and this will be looked into as we go along

Possible Causes at Different Stages

  1. Prenatal: this is solely the responsibility of the mother as mothers are always advised to eat right with a balanced nutrition for not just their sakes but also for the sake of the foetus in the womb. Some mothers as a result of the fear of a painful vaginal delivery or even poverty tend to not eat what, when and how they should eat. Other causes could be Prematurity, pre-natal infections, birth defects, exposure to harmful medicines and toxins such as alcohol and tobacco
  2. Neonatal (less than 1 month): being underweight at this stage could be caused by birth defects, neglect, the child’s inability to suck the breast or bottle, when the mother has challenges lactating, when there is incorrect formula preparation and insufficient number of feedings and also when there is poor feeding interactions such as wrongly assuming the baby is filled when he gags or vomits
  3. Between 3 and 6 months: possible causes are underfeeding, milk protein intolerance, mouth or throat problems such as tongue tying that inhibits his ability to latch, suck and swallow, medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis, congenital heart diseases (increases the number of calories needed) and celiac diseases
  4. Between 7 and 12 months: feeding problems could contribute to your child being underweight, not following up on meals because of an initial refusal by your baby, mouth or throat problems that make it hard for your child to adapt to textured food, not introducing solids at 6 months takes a longer process for your baby to adapt to foods that will provide the essential calories and nutrients for weight gain and another possible cause is when there are parasites in the intestines.
  5. 12 months and above: at this stage, your child is overly active and gets easily distracted thereby making mealtime a chore which makes him not eat as much as he needs to, illness, new stress at home such as divorce, financial challenges etc, sensory based feeding disorders can also contribute to being underweight…this condition is usually associated with children with developmental disorders (e.g. autism) as well as swallowing problems.


  1. If your child vomits, has diarrhea or when eating he swallows, gags and swallows again (rumination)
  2. When foods with hard or crunchy textures are a no-no for your child, this may be a sign of a chewing or swallowing problem
  3. When your child shows signs of food intolerance or allergies; by avoiding certain groups of food such as milk and gluten
  4. When you notice certain attributes to his behavior when it comes to feeding or when he is turned off by certain sensory perceptions

WHAT TO DO (Treatment)

photocredit: livestrong.com

  1. Nutritional intervention: when it is a case of food intolerance, finding creative ways to introduce those essential nutrients and calories
  2. Medical intervention: when it is a medical problem, then the doctor needs to be brought in should there be a need for surgery or a treatment procedure
  3. Behavioral and Development intervention: when you try to address the behavioral tendencies that affect weight gain
  4. Psycho-Social intervention: when you try to correct the stress or situations in his environment that is contributing to the poor weight gain such as alcohol and tobacco intake, financial challenges

Last Words:

That your child looks slim doesn’t automatically mean he is underweight.

A BMI result will tell you what you need to know.

When visiting the doctor remember to take with you a list of all the red flags you should have noted down.

Try to avoid herbal concoctions that have not been certified as a form of treatment

Do not try to force feed your child when he rejects meals. There might be a medical problem

What is most important is for your child to be healthy, fit and active!

“Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels” – anonymous

*As presented on the WellBaby radio show 28th January 2017

About the author

Kris Ero

As a Child and Family Wellness Advocate, known as The WellnessJunkie; she is the founder of The Wellness Cube, host of The Wellness Cube Radio show, convener of the The Wellness Cube Train and Family Wellness Masterclass; she is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Wellness Magazine.

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