Everyone loves to see a jolly chubby baby. There is something about those rolls of fat on the legs, arms and chin that are irresistible. For many babies, this is natural baby fat that will begin to shed as he or she becomes more mobile. But there is growing concern about obesity among babies that may be a precursor for being overweight or obese later in life.
Your pediatrician is the best resource to determine whether your baby is a healthy weight. As you’ve surely noticed, your doctor plots your baby’s height, weight and head circumference on a growth chart during each visit. This not only helps determine the wellbeing of your own child’s growth pattern, but also compares your little one to others of the same age and sex. While there are many times comparing your baby to others is not productive, in the case of growth, these averages are helpful to ensure your tot is on a good path.
The American Journal of Health Promotion reported that nearly one-third of babies under 9 months old are overweight or obese. There are several reasons that contribute to this trend in larger children: if a baby is born large, he will likely remain on the large end of the growth curve all his life; babies born to obese parents are more likely to be overweight; and babies born to moms who develop gestational diabetes are at higher risk of obesity. By tracking your baby’s growth curve and gathering all of the facts about your family history, pregnancy and lifestyle habits, your pediatrician can determine if your baby is hanging on to natural baby fat or if other factors are at play.
Either way, it is never acceptable to put your baby on a diet. There is no reason to withhold food from your baby, especially essential fats that are required for brain, heart, bone and muscle development. Instead, your doctor may recommend a few healthy changes to redirect your baby’s health and get back on the right track.
First, breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby’s weight. Breast fed babies are less likely to be obese later in childhood and adulthood. Formula feeding can lead to overfeeding, which may be the source of a baby’s weight gain. Also, starting solids too early can contribute to obesity, especially when combined with formula feeding. Solids should be introduced between 4 and 6 months of age but the journal Pediatrics claims 40% of parents begin solids prematurely.
When the time is appropriate, make sure you feed your baby healthy foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables. This young age is a crucial time for developing a healthy diet and eating habits. Good eating habits include sitting at a table for meals, eating to satisfy not to stuff even if the plate is not empty, and eating when you are hungry. Excessive sugar consumption is a huge contributor to obesity so limit juice and sugary snacks in your child’s diet. Furthermore, encourage an active lifestyle by giving your babies, toddler and older children plenty of opportunity to run and play.
There are varying opinions about the long term effects of being overweight as a baby. New studies indicate that overweight babies are more likely to be obese as children and adults. And as we all know, obesity has become an epidemic. But does it start as a baby? The jury is still out. Some say that once you expose the body to excess fat storage, the body finds homeostasis in storing fat. Others say that with the right lifestyle choices, babies grow out of their baby fat by age 4 and being on the heavy side as a baby does not necessarily lead to obesity.
The bottom line about chubby babies is to ensure they are growing at a steady pace, according to your pediatrician, and giving them the best chance at a healthy weight by making good dietary and lifestyle choices. Enjoy those rolls while they last because chances are, they will be gone before you know it.