Cuddling up with our little ones during their feeds, especially those nap and bedtime ones, is special.
Few things are as fulfilling as those moments. Snuggles, smiles, and little baby gulps are some of the sweetest memories we carry with us as our babies grow.
However, could these feeding sessions be the beginning of our overeating epidemic?
Currently, two-thirds of adults in the US are overweight or obese. There are several reasons and theories for this, but one of the biggest assumed culprits is our tendency to ‘super-size’ our food portions.
For babies fed at the breast, overeating isn’t really an issue. A breastfed baby has control over her intake. She sucks when she desires more food, and unlatches when she feels full. Our breasts don’t come equipped to measure volume, so when baby lets go, we simply trust she’s had a full feed.
A new study in the journal Pediatrics explores the possibility that overeating begins with super-sizing our infants’ bottles.
What Is Super-Sizing?
Over recent decades, standard portion sizes have grown, and for no good reason.
In the 1950s, a standard restaurant meal was a 200ml (7oz) soft drink / soda, a 110g (3.9oz) hamburger, and a 70g (2.4oz) serving of French fries. Today, a standard restaurant meal is a 1.2l (42oz) soft drink / soda, a 340g (12oz) hamburger and a 190g (6.7oz) serving of French fries.
People used to pay extra for a super-sized portion. Now, it is the standard and “normal” portion.
There hasn’t been any benefit to increasing portion sizes, but we have seen a lot of ill effects – mainly an increase in weight related health problems.
Serving sizes of food we would prepare at home have also increased. Serving suggestions for pasta and muffins, for example, have at least doubled and, in some cases, quadrupled.
Essentially, most of us now consume far more calories than we need.
Does Bottle Size Matter?
Researchers surveyed families of 400 2-month old infants who were only formula fed, and then followed up 6 months later. Around half of the families used bottles that held less than 170ml (6oz) and the other half used bottles that held more.
When they followed up, 6 months later, they found that the babies fed with the larger bottles had gained more weight, and had a higher weight-for-length ratio than infants fed with the smaller bottles.
Another study found that infants who were given breast milk from a bottle, rather than fed just at the breast, also tended to gain more weight.
Why Does Bottle Size Matter?
Feeding babies is a warm and fuzzy bonding time. Babies are often happy and content, calm in our arms, and enjoying their feeds. Bottle size comes into play because we have a tendency to encourage infants to finish their bottles completely. Even if they unlatch from the bottle with less than 10ml (a quarter of an ounce) remaining, and we encourage them to finish it all, those small amounts can add up to a lot more calories over time.
When we use smaller bottles, there’s less volume to encourage babies to finish. If we use a smaller bottle and the baby seems to want more, we can always prepare more. When we’ve already made up larger bottles, we tend to encourage babies to finish the whole amount, regardless of whether they seem to have had enough.
Babies also have less control of milk transference while bottle feeding. When infants feed from the breast, milk transfers only when they are actively sucking. When babies feed from a bottle, milk flows regardless of their latch, and often with less work.
How Can I Bottle Feed Without Worrying About Super-Sizing?
Using paced bottle feeding, whether with breast milk or formula, can be an excellent way to ensure baby gets what she needs without encouraging her to take extra.
Paced bottle feeding means using baby’s natural hunger cues, rather than the clock, to initiate feeds. It also means baby has more control over milk transference. It is not about encouraging a specific volume of milk, unless medically indicated and directed by your baby’s doctor.
You can read more about paced bottle feeding in our article Bottle Nursing – 6 Steps to Better Bottle Feeding.
Is Infant Feeding Really Connected With The Obesity Epidemic?
In short, yes. How we feed our infants can shape their eating habits for life. It can have an impact on how they listen to their bodies’ cues for hunger and feeling full. It also affects the feelings they associate with eating, and portion sizes.
However, it’s also important to remember that each baby has a unique growth pattern. Babies are designed to have some extra fat stores, so it isn’t about your baby appearing chubby or lean. How your baby eats as an infant can be a way of teaching her to follow hunger cues, and listen to her body’s signals of being full, rather than encouraging overeating for the sake of finishing a prepped portion size. It isn’t about your baby’s appearance or about numbers on a scale.
If your baby is hungry, she needs to eat. Developing good eating patterns doesn’t mean controlling and counting your baby’s calories but rather helping her to get the intake she needs without encouraging overeating.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s size, intake or feeding, talk with an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a paediatric nutritionist, or your baby’s doctor.
Recently, experts discovered that many formulas on the Australian market contain too high levels of protein, which may contribute to childhood obesity. Find out more, including how to choose a lower protein formula, here.