Maternal deprivation syndrome

Alternative Names

Nonorganic failure to thrive

Definition of Maternal deprivation syndrome

Maternal deprivation syndrome is a form of that is caused by neglect (intentional or unintentional).

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The majority of cases of failure to thrive in infants and young children (under 2 years old) are not caused by disease. Most cases are caused by dysfunctional caregiver interaction, poverty, child abuse, and parental ignorance about appropriate child care. Such cases are considered “nonorganic” failure to thrive. Failure to thrive in children younger than 2 years old is defined as failure to gain adequate weight, failure of linear growth, and failure to achieve some or all developmental milestones.

Signs and tests

Careful evaluation by a doctor is the first step. A physical exam, medical history, and simple laboratory tests can be used to rule out major medical illnesses as the cause. The doctor will closely examine the patient’s growth chart.


Treatment of failure to thrive is a major undertaking which requires the input of a multidisciplinary team including physicians, nutritionists, social workers, behavioral specialists, and visiting nurses.

Expectations (prognosis)

With adequate attention and care, full recovery is expected. However, neglect severe enough to cause failure to thrive can kill if it continues.


Deirdre O’Reilly, MD, MPH, Neonatologist, Division of Newborn Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston and Instructor in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. – 11/2/2009


ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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