Recent studies have linked adult obesity with being over fed bottle milk in infancy. So, are you giving too much milk to your baby?
If you’re bottle feeding your baby it’s easy to see how much baby is getting. Manufacturers provide instructions on how to make formula milk and how much milk a baby should consume. The guidelines state how much to feed a baby for a particular age and weight. So, why do babies run a greater risk of being overweight when they are bottle fed?
The biggest reason for excessive weight gain is because parents ignore a baby’s signals that she’s had enough. Breastfeeding mothers are taught to follow baby’s lead. Breastfeeding mothers are taught to offer breast milk when the baby wants it and to stop breastfeeding when she sees signs that baby has had enough. Mothers who choose to bottle feed are seldom, if ever, given this advice. Rather, mothers feel obliged to follow instructions printed on the side of a container. But guidelines aren’t suitable for every child; each child is unique, different. Because of blind acceptance that manufacturers of formula milk know best, many mothers are tempted to make baby finish the bottle.
Nicolas Stettler, a pediatric nutrition specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, studied data on a large group of bottle-fed babies. He found a correlation between rapid weight gain in the first four months and being overweight at age seven. This, he suggests, may be due to overfeeding. “With bottle-fed babies, a mother can override her baby by urging him to finish the bottle,” he explains. “The mother needs to be responsive to her baby’s cues.” When babies are constantly overfilled, past the point of feeling replete, then in time they may learn to ignore the ‘full signal’. Also, for most babies, drinking milk isn’t just about getting nutrition; it’s about comfort. Therefore some babies will often feed even when they’re not hungry.
A mother must be on the lookout for signals that baby has been fed enough. But what signals should a bottle-feeding mother be looking for? Firstly, follow the advice given to breastfeeding mothers. That means letting your baby take ten or 12 sucks, then removing the bottle, then allowing ten or 12 more sucks, then another break, and so on. This pacing is particularly important for a newborn, less so after about four months. During these breaks, remove the nipple from your baby’s mouth as you might accidentally press it against her palate. If, after one of these breaks, your baby does not open her mouth for the bottle, she’s probably finished. When you baby is drinking watch her mouth. If your baby’s mouth relaxes or goes slack so that she’s no longer sucking actively, she is finished drinking. If you baby is no longer keeping eye contact, rolling her head from side to side, or is trying to push the bottle way; she’s finished drinking.
Formula-fed babies are known to put on weight in a different pattern compared to breastfed babies. This difference is most marked after two or three months, when formula-fed babies gain weight slightly faster than breastfed babies on average. Breastfeed babies typically gain weight more slowly after the first three months. Also, they tend to be slightly leaner at a year old than formula-fed babies. Bear this in mind if you are comparing your baby’s weight gains against a weight chart.
Baby’s weight gains can be erratic and it’s not unusual for new born babies to loose weight in the first few days. If you are concerned about your baby’s weight you should immediately get medical advice. As discussed above, the most important thing is to follow your baby’s lead as to how much it needs; not anyone else’s.