Is Your Toddler Growing Fast Enough?

Help for underweight toddler

photo credit: digitaldrew


Reader Question: “My daughter’s pediatrician just recommended that we put her on a nutritional supplement drink (Carnation Instant Breakfast) because she is 18 months old & not yet 20 lbs. I went to the store today to pick it up and realized I can’t in good conscience feed this to my baby (nonfat powdered milk, 2nd ingredient is sugar, etc). What do I do from a whole foods viewpoint without feeding my daughter junk? She is still nursing part-time, and I’m wondered whether it is better to restrict breastfeeding to nap and bed time (or bumps on the head..) to keep her hungry for big girl food or still let her nurse whenever?”


Donielle- My children have always been on the low-end of the growth chart, so this issue is always something I deal with at the doctors! My son was 18 lbs at a year and my daughter just 17lbs. Both were barely over 20lbs at 18 months. BUT – they were steadily growing and I was also a small child, as were my sisters, so it’s not something I worry about too much.

I’d personally say just make sure she’s eating good quality eggs, full fat dairy (yogurt, cottage cheese, etc), a variety of produce, maybe some good quality cod liver oil, and not foods full of empty calories like juice and cereals.

I think if both of you are still happy breastfeeding, then you can easily continue. Breastmilk is naturally full of easily absorbed fats for baby!  You’ll probably notice that she’ll go through a growth spurt soon enough – no matter what you try to “supplement” with.
Another thing to look at is the WHO (world health organization) growth charts, and a good source of information on the subject is an article at, “Average Growth Pattern of Breastfed Babies“. Another thing to remember is the charts are meant for “average” babies/toddlers, so just being on the small end isn’t to much of a cause for concern as long as they show steady growth. A LACK of any growth or LOSS of growth is! If she’s climbing in both weight and height, she may just be doing it at her own pace and hitting a growth spurt later than most. My son was in 9 month clothes till he was 14 months old and didn’t hit his spurt until 16 months and then again around 2 years and is still small for his age. But he’s happy, healthy, and for the most part illness free so we don’t worry about it and just make sure he gets plenty of whole foods.

Our Facebook Friends added –

  • I had to supplement my child during that time and I too, couldn’t stand the thought of him ingesting corn syrup in such large quantities at such a tender age so Google organic toddler formula and you will find some varieties like Earth’s Best that are sweetened w/natural sweeteners but still provide nutrients.
  • Organic whole milks/almond milk, avocados, cook with organic virgin olive oil and coconut oil, make sure she’s not getting empty calories.
  • Get rid of cereal and start cooking eggs for breakfast! That’s what I did when my dr told me the same thing about my son.
  • Look at what you already feed her and see where you can up the calories and fat, such as whole milk instead of reduced fat. And work with her natural hunger patterns: does she eat more if you stick to regular mealtimes and cut out grazing and snacking or will she get more calories if you let her eat whenever she wants? also, has the dr ruled out something more serious than a lack of calories?
  • We had the same recommendation for our little guy.I started allowing him to be a grazer and his eating increased.I also changed some of what he eats. More homemade foods with added nutrients “hidden” in the;pureed veggies,wheat germ,and juices. Smoothies are also a great choice.Just make sure not to add sugar.
  • We added essential fats to my daughter’s diet, mixed in her breakfast every morning, and she gained a pound in a month. It was a small change that helped with healthy weight gain, even if it was only a pound, it helps.
  • My 9 yr old daughter eats pretty healthy, but still ended up with problems. We found out that she was deficient in zinc and vit d. It didn’t matter what I feed her, she wasn’t absorbing anything. I would find a functional medicine dr. or another type of holistic dr. to get their take on it. Also, she needs lots of foods with probiotics in it. Check out the Body Ecology site, she explains why we all need more probiotic food. Also, anything Weston Price is good.
  • I would make her smoothies and instead of using milk add the fruit and/or veggies you want, then use homemade greek yogurt and if it needs to be thinned add some of the whey that comes out of the greek yogurt. If you have a crock pot it’s really simple and cheap to make and the whey and greek yogurt will get a lot of good protein and healthy fat into her. You can also add a raw pastured egg yolk if you’re comfortable with that and/or a tablespoon or two of virgin coconut oil. You could also add almond flour to the top of yogurt, oatmeal, etc. which has a lot of good protein and healthy fat.

What are your thoughts? Were any of you told your children were to little – what did you do?


*Information given is in the spirit of sharing experiences, not as medical advice. Use common sense and do your own research when making decisions regarding your family’s health.

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This blog is for educational purposes only. The information provided by Donielle, or any contributor, is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. If you are seeking medical advice, please search out a qualified health practitioner.

About donielle

Donielle is a natural momma of two, lover of real foods, and owner and editor of Grand Rapids Natural Living and Naturally Knocked Up. You can usually find her in the kitchen whipping up some nourishing foods, cuddled on the couch reading books to the littles, avoiding the laundry and Mt. Saint Dishes, or tapping away on the laptop. Her husband puts up with her sometimes crazy "hippie" ways, but loves her regardless. Welcome to my home away from home.


  1. Thanks for the post! My son is barely 24 pounds and he is almost 17 months and I’ve been given a hard time (and feel like an awful mom many days!). It’s hard to watch everyone else’s babies chunk out. He just isn’t a big eater. I’m still breastfeeding (although he is starting to self wean some). I do a lot of eggs, full fat home made yogurt, coconutoil, avocado, and home made nut butter…..But I don’t want to force him to eat if he doesn’t want to and I don’t want to feed him junk!

  2. Heather says:

    We hit a snag with my son’s growth. His pediatrician, who always prefers real whole foods, suggested more natural fats, bacon (since that was the only meat he’d eat at that point, still is), eggs, whole dairy products. It helped but not enough so my pediatrician suggested eliminating grains. We still struggle with this and are working on going paleo but his weight has greatly improved and is now more in line with his height. I’ve also noticed he sleeps much better and his behavior has improved as well. At two years he weighs 26 pounds and both the pediatrician and I are thrilled.

    One thing my pediatrician said was not to measure against the current height/weight charts or percentiles compared to other children. One reason is kids grow at their own rates. We all know the kid who was the shortest in the class then came back from summer break the tallest. The other reason is that with childhood obesity so prevalent comparison charts are skewed towards heavier weights. To him, weight gain is only an indication to take a closer look at other health factors. If a child suddenly stops gaining weight (like mine did) or suddenly pudges out it *may* be a symptom of something else. If a child is smaller but in otherwise great health it is nothing to worry about.

  3. Growth charts are just to give you an idea of what’s average, not required. I have twin toddlers. They’ll be 3 in Sept. One (the “little” brother) is wearing 4t & 5t clothes and seems to get taller by the day. The other (“big” brother) is still wearing 2T and even some 18 mo. As long as they’re growing some and you’re feeding them well you have little to worry about (though I know we all do!).

  4. My son who is now 2.5 years old has always been tall and skinny. He was probably 20 ls at 18 months as well. Breast feed until 16 months and eat really healthy. My 4.5 month old son is only breast fed and is 18 lbs right now( 4.5 months old) He is huge and also tall. My husband and I are both tall and lean so we never thought we would have a big baby. All kids are different and I agree with others that as long as they are growing( not losing wight) and healthy there is nothing to worry about. I would rather have what drs call a little toddler that I know is healthy and eats then a toddler that eats carnation breakfast. I know its hard as parents when drs tell us things about our kids. But we know our kids, what they eat, their patters and their ways. You know best if your toddler is just petite or if she is small due to health related/food intake issues.

  5. Kylie W. says:

    Thank you, everyone! What we’re doing now is I’ve found her a whey protein powder that is JUST whey protein (well, and some vanilla flavor) that I put into her cup of milk twice a day. We’re off juice, cheerios, and crackers. I checked the WHO growth charts and she’s on the very bottom of those, but she’s so smart, alert, and physically able that I don’t see much point in worrying. I do worry some about what the ped. will say when she finds out I didn’t follow her instructions, but I guess I will just try to grow a thick skin between now and her next appointment. 🙂

    The other thing I am wanting to do is start her on a cod liver oil. I’ve looked at WAP’s recommendations and I’m wondering if I’m going to see a big functional difference between something like Twin Labs or Carlson and Green Pasture’s Blue Ice. We are a grad school family on a very limited budget but I could justify it as a health-care purchase.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I read this during the day and had my son’s 9 mo. appointment at 5:30 last night. I had a feeling I was going to “get in trouble” for his weight. Thus far, we’ve held out on grains. We were going to wait until he was at least a year old. He eats 2 egg yolks each morning for breakfast as well as some melon or some other finger food if he’s still hungry. He typically gets yogurt with something mixed in like sweet potatoes or apricots and then dinner varies. I give him FCLO/HVBO blend, but I’m not as consistent as I need to be. Despite following all the NT “rules” for feeding infants he’s still underweight and they said his iron was a little low. I think I’m going to start giving him liver to see if I can “beef” up the iron count. I wonder if that would help him gain. I’m sure I could “fatten him up” if I gave him all sorts of processed stuff, but he’s my baby, a human baby, not a cow. He shouldn’t need to be fattened up! Actually something just occurred to me. I wonder what the growth charts looked like before all the “refinement of food” stuff happened. I wonder if he’s on point on those charts? Hmmmmm.

  7. Allison says:

    My daughter is three years old weighs 25lbs and is 35inches tall. She was 16lbs at a year old and up until she started walking aka running fell into the 50 th percentile on the growth charts. By 18 months I the concern started to grow bc she wasn’t gaining enough weight and her height started dropping too! We took her to children ‘s hospital in Philly just to make sure it was nothing hormonal. All the test came back negative and we met with a nutritionist. She said to boost her calories with fat whenever we could and make sure she was drinking her milk through things like smoothies, milk in her scrambled eggs, etc. She was not a fan of pedisure or carnation either bc of the high sugar content. Today Madison is healthy(never even had a ear infection), happy and well petite! I used to get so worried bc everywhere we went people would comment on how tiny she was. Trust your gut! If your child is happy and bright and showing no developmental delays then they are OK! I really think the fact that Madison eats little to no junk and is fed a healthy diet is why she is quote on quote small. Or maybe we have it right and those charts are wrong. Good Luck to you!