This article was updated in December 2018.
Jan’s baby was getting pudgy. Pudgier than normal.
People were starting to comment when she was at the grocery store, and her extended family was starting to be concerned.
One family member stated that her baby was “too fat.”
Are Fat Babies Healthy?
Fat babies are a good thing–right? A sign of vibrant health, as well as attentive and successful parenting.
In some cultures, fat babies are a sign of health and prosperity. But, overfeeding babies can be a slippery slope, leading to future health problems.
Up to 8% of the population of children under the age of two have been identified as having an unhealthy weight, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
While I don’t think we should panic, or even focus too much on an infant’s weight, when this happens, it’s a sign that poor feeding practices may be the culprit.
Should we do anything about it? Place babies on a diet (heck, NO)? Let them grow out of it?
Or, front-load with more nutrition education and awareness?
A recent study in The Journal of Pediatrics looked at a sample of infants aged 6 months and identified a 16% rate of obesity among them. Babies who were heavy at 6 months were still likely to be heavy at 24 months.
This is how our problem of childhood obesity may get its start…in the highchair.
What causes infant obesity?
Although it is complicated and not fully understood, the following are potential parenting behaviors that may encourage a path toward overfeeding baby and an unhealthy weight in infants:
Inappropriate feeding practices:
The methods and practices in which we feed babies may contribute to infant obesity, such as: adding cereal to the baby bottle to encourage a baby to sleep through the night; improper mixing of formula which may result in a concentrated calorie source; forcing an infant to “finish the bottle”; and feeding a baby “all day long” are just some of the red flags that a baby may be fed inappropriately.
Mis-interpreting infant cues:
Babies let their parents know when they are full. They turn their heads away, fall asleep, or pull off the breast or bottle. Likewise, they let their hunger be heard…by crying!
Confusing these signals, or worse, ignoring them, can result in overfeeding. Paying attention and accurately reading infant cues will help parents feed their baby enough, but not too much.
Confusing infant cues with hunger:
A crying baby doesn’t always mean a hungry baby. Parents may be confused by their baby’s signals, misreading boredom, a wet diaper, or tiredness, and believing it means their baby is hungry.
Interpreting crying or discomfort as a sign of hunger can lead to overfeeding your baby.
Starting solids too early:
Many new parents feel the pressure from outside influences to introduce solids early. Or perhaps they are under-informed about how and when to begin solid food.
The timing for solid food introduction to infants is generally between 4 and 6 months. Following a guideline for starting solids can help parents stay on track with their baby’s nutritional needs and developmental progression.
Starting too early can pose the risk of overfeeding, and overfeeding can lead to weight problems.
Lack of nutrition knowledge:
Many parents lack the information and confidence to feed their baby, and may not have the resources to seek out this information.
This lack of knowledge may lead to the presentation of unhealthy foods, an inadequate balance of the important food groups in the diet, and feeding practices that encourage excess weight gain.
Feeding your baby, and doing it well, sets the foundation for the overall health of your baby.
In order to prevent unhealthy weight in older children, parents need to pay attention to food selection, timing, and the attitudes and actions they use in the high chair.
Do you have questions about feeding your baby and getting started on the right foot?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: April 15, 2010
Updated on: June 20, 2019