Baby being bottle-fed

The ongoing debate about breast milk versus formula continues, but what about the method of delivery? Many breastfeeding moms pump their milk and bottle-feed their babies too, or even supplement with formula.

New study ponders
the connection

A new study suggests a link between bottle-fed babies and being overweight as a toddler.

Making sure your baby gets the nutrition he needs and is eating enough to gain sufficient weight is of concern to all new mothers. Part of developing good eating habits is learning to stop eating when you are full. Babies who are bottle-fed may eat past this point, according to a new study.

Developing good habits

What if you could start your baby off on the right track to a lifetime of healthy eating habits? Researchers at Brigham Young University wondered if our eating patterns and habits actually begin to develop in infancy. By helping your baby learn to listen to internal cues and stop eating when he is full, you are helping him learn to self-regulate. This gives him a better chance of staying at a healthy weight through childhood and beyond.

What researchers saw

Brigham Young University sociology professors Ben Gibbs and Renata Forste studied information from more than 8,000 families, looking for patterns of eating behavior. Their research was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity. They found a direct correlation between infant feeding methods and clinical obesity at 24 months of age. Babies that were predominantly fed formula were two-and-a-half times more likely to be obese as toddlers than breastfed babies. “If you are overweight at age 2, it puts you on a trajectory where you are likely to be overweight into middle childhood and adolescence and as an adult,” said Forste. “That’s a big concern.”

The professors were quick to point out that formula itself is not the culprit. Babies who are encouraged to finish each bottle — even when they attempt to push it away — quickly learn to ignore the cues their body sends to tell them to stop eating. Breastfed babies are more likely to stop eating when full, and mothers can’t accurately determine how many ounces the baby has taken. This reduces the likelihood of the mother encouraging the baby to “finish” a feeding.

Other habits to watch

Bottle-feeding wasn’t the only eating habit that was tied to obesity in toddlerhood. “There seems to be this cluster of infant feeding patterns that promote childhood obesity,” said Gibbs, lead author of the study. Putting a baby to bed with a bottle caused a whopping 36 percent increase in the chance of childhood obesity, while introducing solid foods before the age of 4 months increased a baby’s chance of obesity by 40 percent.

What can parents do?

Not all moms can or wish to breastfeed their babies, so how can they avoid this problem? By paying attention to your baby’s cues, you can help her learn to listen to her own body. “You can still do things even if you are bottle-feeding to help your child learn to regulate their eating practices and develop healthy patterns,“ says Forste. Here are a few things to watch.

  • Don’t encourage your baby to finish the whole bottle. “When a child is full and pushes away, stop!“ says Forste. “Don’t encourage them to finish the whole bottle.” While it is your job to provide nourishment for your baby, it ultimately is up to her to decide how hungry she is.
  • Wait to introduce solids until after 4 months of age, if not a bit longer. Talk to your pediatrician about your baby’s nutritional needs and the best way to ensure that your baby maintains a healthy weight as she grows.
  • Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk or formula. Not only does this practice increase the likelihood that your child will be obese, but it’s also bad for her teeth.

Start your baby off right, on a path to healthy eating and a healthy weight.

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Tags: childhood obesity

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