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Overfeeding Baby: It Begins in the High Chair

Overfeeding baby: It Begins in the High ChairThis article was updated in December 2018.

Over-Feeding Baby

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. 

Overfeeding Baby: It Begins in the High Chair

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?

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  1. I would like to express my appreciation for your post. That’s really great to know that there are such people like you who do their job very well and with such enthusiasm.

  2. Hi Jill.
    Thanks for this post. I’m a little on the fence about this–especially from a personal experience. My son was born at 6lbs, then by 6 months he was 95th percentile, and now at 1.5 years, he’s about 80 percentile. I do think they grow out of it after they start walking, but also at this age, they start asking for snacks and “having a personality” and this time is crucial for parents to set some limits, including food.

    I also think that parents-including myself can immediately associate crying with hungry, which is not true. It takes less effort to give your child a bottle or snack so they would be quite and you can get your work, chores, etc, done, rather than stopping everything to figure out what’s wrong with them. But, that’s our role as parent. To listen, not always just feed.

    1. I agree, Nour, that most infants have the very cute and necessary baby fat during the first year of life. And yes, many infants outgrow this tendency once they become mobile. However, the feeding practices that begin in the high chair, from the type of foods offered to pacifying a child with food, are fundmental feeding tendencies that can stick as the child ages–potentially becoming contributing factors to childhood obesity. And remember, we don’t observe BMI in children under the age of 2 years–we look at growth charts that represent weight for height–and weight for height exceeding the 95%ile indicates overweight/obesity. We also do not put babies on diets–we correct the inappropriate feeding practices. Thanks for your comment!

    1. Yes, it is so important to pay attention to what, when, how, and why you are feeding –it sets the tone and manner for years to come!