Big Babies - Are They An Obesity Risk?

Filed under: Opinions

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Both of my girls were born in the 95th percentile for height and weight. At one month, my firstborn was still gaining rapidly. "If she keeps this up," I remember our pediatrician saying, "She's going to be a six feet tall by age four."

She isn't, in fact, a six foot kindergartner. Thank goodness. Both of them dropped down to an average height and weight by six months and have held steady. Pediatrician Dr. Susan C. Hendrickson tells ParentDish that big babies at birth have more to do with placental health than obesity risk, but by six months genetic potential sets in.

Childhood obesity is all over the news this week, and the focus is on infants and toddlers. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that the risk of obesity may start as early as infancy. Using weight-for-length measure -- kind of like a baby BMI -- researchers found that babies in the top 25 percent for weight and height were at a 40 percent increased chance of obesity by preschool. Another study found that one in five preschoolers are obese, While these statistics are certainly worrisome, Dr. Hendrickson puts them in context for us.

"The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) doesn't agree with the term 'obese'," says Dr. Hendrickson. Instead, they call it "at risk for obesity." Though size may be a risk factor, Hendrickson is quick to point out that not every big baby will grow up to be obese. "You have to individualize this," she said. "It matters more how they're growing on the curve." A baby who's born in the 95th percentile and stays there, for instance, is less of a concern than a baby who jumps from the 50th to the 90th percentile.

The best advice for a parent who's worried about their baby or toddler's weight -- under or over -- is to consult with their doctor. Otherwise, however, it's never too early to encourage healthy eating habits in your baby. Here are some tips:

  • Feed baby when she's hungry, but let her stop when she's full. Don't push your baby to finish a bottle, a jar of baby food, or to continue breastfeeding when she pushes away.
  • Don't add cereal to baby's bottle, unless your child has a health issue that requires it. The reason for this, says Dr. Hendrickson, is that unlike spoon-feeding solids, babies are unable to push the food out with their tongue when it's mixed into a bottle.
  • Juice never goes in a baby bottle, my pediatrician always told me, and should be avoided before four months of age. The AAP recommends parents limit juice to four ounces or less per day under age 7. "Think of it like dessert," says Dr. Hendrickson. You wouldn't feed them candy all day, right?
  • Play with your baby at mealtime. It's a good time for bonding, suggests Dr. Hendrickson, and it slows down babies who eat too fast.
  • Don't go overboard. Supermarkets are packed with low-fat and no-fat products, but babies under two need fat for brain and spinal cord development. Feed them full fat milk, sauces, and yogurt until their second birthday.

In addition to good eating habits, babies also needs lots of activity. Tummy time, rolling, crawling, pulling up, toddling -- learning to be mobile is hard work and great exercise for baby.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.