While underfeeding your newborn is an obvious concern, overfeeding can put your child at risk for being overweight later in life. It’s important to establish healthy eating patterns right away. Dr. Joseph Kahn, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at St. John’s Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, recommends, “Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, feeding ‘on demand’ is recommended rather than forcing your baby to keep an artificial schedule. Feeding on demand reduces the risk of overfeeding and developing bad habits which lead to overeating later in childhood and into adult life.”
How do you know when your newborn is “demanding”? Your baby is less enigmatic than you think. Every newborn comes equipped with a range of physical indicators to keep you on the right track. When he’s hungry, you’ll see your baby “rooting”: opening his mouth and turning his head from side to side. He may stick out his tongue, suck on his hands or nuzzle toward you.
Your pediatrician may ask you to keep track of feedings and diaper changes to make sure your baby is getting the food he needs. “If your infant has had an adequate amount at a feeding, he will appear satisfied, fall asleep, be happily contented and alert or turn away from the breast or bottle when full,” says Dr. Kahn. “Your baby will have four to six wet diapers daily and will have regular bowel movements.” Your doctor will also watch your baby’s progress on the scale.
Taking it easy
Don’t worry—although adjusting to your baby’s feeding schedule may be stressful in the beginning, it does get easier! Feeding your baby should be an enjoyable experience for you both. It’s a great excuse to take a break from your busy day and share some quiet bonding time. You may find a supreme satisfaction in meeting your little one’s needs.
When it’s time for your baby to start solid foods, follow the same “on demand” principle you used during his newborn days. Dr. Kahn suggests, “Begin solid foods at 6 months of age, not earlier, and breast or bottle feed exclusively until then. I tell my patients that unless their baby needs fruit juices to help regulate constipation, there is no need to offer fruit juice to a baby. Avoidance of juice and sweetened drinks will help avoid childhood obesity.” By controlling your baby’s natural sweet tooth, he will be healthier through childhood and you can avoid years of Kool-Aid stains on the carpet!
Many children suffer from childhood obesity. One child at a time, we can turn it around.
- In 2003-2004, 17.1% of children and adolescents age 2 to 19 were overweight. That’s over 12 million people.
- Since the late 70s, the proportion of overweight children ages 2 to 5 has increased from 5% to 13.9%. (source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
- Overweight children and teens are more likely to become obese as adults.
- According to the American Heart Association, “If childhood obesity continues to increase, it could cut 2 to 5 years from the average lifespan. That could cause our current generation of children to become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.”
- Carrying excess weight may lead to various health problems, including:
- Heart disease caused by high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Social discrimination