Should you worry about baby fat? Not so much. While some recent studies have found a link between fattening up too fast during infancy and childhood obesity, your number one job as a mom is to help your baby gain weight. Indeed, cutting calories during the first year could interfere with both your baby’s physical growth and her brain development. Instead, just keep these guidelines in mind so your little cherub develops healthy eating habits:
Know the signs of satiety. A baby has had enough to eat when she closes her eyes, spits out the nipple, or pulls away, says John Worobey, Ph.D., chairman of the department of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, NJ. Don’t insist that she continue to nurse or finish her bottle. (Of course, if your baby shows no interest in eating for two or three feedings in a row, give your doc a call.)
Avoid using food to soothe. You’ll need to feed a newborn often and on demand. But an older baby who fusses between meals or not long after he has emptied his mom’s breasts or finished off a bottle doesn’t always need more food to feel better. First try offering him a pacifier, or help him relax with rocking, singing, or shushing, suggests Jennifer Helmcamp, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas A&M Health Science Center at Round Rock.
Put solids in perspective. During the first year, a child’s primary source of calories and nutrition should be breast milk or formula, says Dr.Helmcamp. Even though babies typically start solids around 6 months, the main function of eating food at this point is to get a kid used to having it in her mouth and to provide her with a chance to “practice” eating. She doesn’t need to polish off jar after jar every time she’s plopped in the high chair.
Keep some barometers in mind. Babies should double their birth weight by about 4 months, and triple it by their first birthday. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby is exceeding these guidelines.
Feeding your newborn: Tips for new parents
A newborn’s feeding schedule can be unpredictable. Here’s what, when and how to feed your baby.
- Stick with breast milk or formula
Breast milk is the ideal food for babies — with rare exceptions. If breast-feeding isn’t possible, use infant formula. Healthy newborns don’t need water, juice or other fluids.
- Feed your newborn on demand
Most newborns need eight to 12 feedings a day — about one feeding every two to three hours.
Look for early signs of hunger, such as stirring and stretching, sucking motions and lip movements. Fussing and crying are later cues. The sooner you begin each feeding, the less likely you’ll need to soothe a frantic baby.
When your baby stops sucking, closes his or her mouth, or turns away from the nipple or bottle, he or she might be full — or simply taking a break. Try burping your baby or waiting a minute before offering your breast or the bottle again.
As your baby gets older, he or she will take in more milk in less time at each feeding.
- Consider vitamin D supplements
Ask your baby’s doctor about vitamin D supplements for the baby, especially if you’re breast-feeding. Breast milk might not provide enough vitamin D, which helps your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.
- Expect variations in your newborn’s eating patterns
Your newborn won’t necessarily eat the same amount every day. During growth spurts — often at two to three weeks after birth and again at six weeks after birth — your newborn might take more at each feeding or want to be fed more often. Respond to early signs of hunger, rather than keeping a strict eye on the clock.
- Trust your instincts — and your newborn’s
You might worry that your newborn isn’t eating enough, but babies usually know just how much they need. Don’t focus on how much, how often or how regularly your newborn eats. Instead, look for:
Steady weight gain
Contentment between feedings
By the fifth day after birth, at least six wet diapers and three or more bowel movements a day
Contact the doctor if your newborn isn’t gaining weight, wets fewer than six diapers a day or shows little interest in feedings.
- Consider each feeding a time to bond with your newborn
Hold your newborn close during each feeding. Look him or her in the eye. Speak with a gentle voice. Use each feeding as an opportunity to build your newborn’s sense of security, trust and comfort.
- Know when to ask for help
If you’re having trouble breast-feeding, ask a lactation consultant or your baby’s doctor for help — especially if every feeding is painful or your baby isn’t gaining weight. If you haven’t worked with a lactation consultant, ask your baby’s doctor for a referral or check with the obstetrics department at a local hospital.