Lately it seems like new babies are coming into the clinic left and right! Must be that time of year, but I find myself counseling new parents a lot lately. One thing that I stress to them is that it’s never too early to get started with good eating habits.
Many parents and grandparents feel that a chubby baby is a healthy baby. But where do we draw the line? Often times parents will even hear from their pediatrician, “Oh, she’ll grow out of it.” But will she? Is it possible for an infant to be overweight or to be eating too much? There are many factors that can contribute to an infant’s overly rapid weight gain.
- Not recognizing hunger cues – Infants cry for all kinds of reasons. Remember that this is their only way to communicate with you. Just because your little one is crying, doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is hungry. It can be a dirty diaper,wrong temperature, uncomfortable position, or boredom. Be aware of all of the factors that may make your infant unhappy. You may even learn the difference in cries. On the contrary, don’t try to get your newborn on a schedule. If he or she is hungry, offer a bottle or the breast. Don’t offer too much before bed to get them to try to sleep through the night.
- Starting solids too early – The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until four to six months to start cereal. I usually recommend closer to six months, especially for exclusively breastfed infants. Why? Cereal starts to displace the amount of breastmilk that an infant will drink, and milk supply will usually start to fall. A recent study by Pediatrics found thatt introducing solids before four months old to formula-fed infants increases the risk of obesity at three years old.
- Poor food choices – Around ten months I usually recommend starting to transition to table foods. Many parents get so excited that infants can now eat what the rest of the family eats! So what’s the problem? According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, approximately one third of adults are overweight or obese. I think it’s safe to say that poor eating habits are a major contribution to this climbing statistic. And these food habits are being passed on to infants from the very beginning. Infants should not be eating fried or fast foods. Nor should they be eating sweets or drinking excess juice (if any at all).
- Overfeeding – Just as infants have hunger cues, they also have fullness cues. Pay attention to when he or she is full. Often times infants will turn their heads or push the bottle or spoon away. Breastfed infants may fall asleep at the breast or turn away. Moms that are breastfeeding should focus more on weight gain and counting dirty diapers versus looking at the clock. Keep in mind that infants usually nurse very rapidly once latched and then will tend to slow down. This is completely normal. Also remember that newborns don’t eat very much at first. For the first couple of days, the stomach capacity is only about the size of a marble. By day ten, it’s about the size of a ping pong ball. Although the stomach can stretch, you can imagine what a 6 oz bottle of formula jammed into a ping pong ball would feel like!
Keep in mind that infants depend on us, the parents, to give them a healthy start. With the ongoing obesity trend in the United States, we should do our best in working against this trend for the health of our little ones and their future.