The study group comprised 40 unselected Caucasian children admitted to hospital whose ages were between 3 months and 3 years and whose weights were less than 3rd centile. A comparison group comprised 34 children from a similar background whose weights were between the 25th and 75th contiles. The mothers of all 74 children were interviewed and information was obtained on physical health of the child, social and family factors, bonding, feeding difficulties, and maternal childhood experience. In 23 of the 40 underweight children the organic disease was considered to be insufficient to explain the child being underweight and to be probably insufficient in a further 9 children. Three factors occurred more frequently in these 32 underweight children. The mother often perceived herself as having a disturbed mood and used the word "depression" to describe these feelings. She also tended to come from a lower social class than the mother in the comparison group, and her infant frequently had a low birthweight. Identification of these children is not difficult; clinical investigations need to be minimal, and therapy should be directed towards supporting the mother emotionally, improving her relationship with her child, and increasing her mothering skills.
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