Breastfeeding helps babies recognize hunger and fullness cues, paving the way for healthy eating habits. These tips will help bottle-fed infants develop these same habits.
Chubby babies are the quintessential picture of adorableness. But does this raise the risk of childhood obesity?
While some babies are leaner than others, many roly-poly infants are right on track on their growth curves. Contrary to what previous generations may have suspected, a baby's chubbiness is not necessarily an indication for future weight problems.
Rather, the CDC points toward a genetic propensity for childhood obesity regardless of infant weight, as well as unhealthy behaviors modeled or taught to young children.
Breast milk carries an inherent benefit of growth factors that protect against childhood obesity. Regardless, the actual act of breastfeeding - taking the breast milk out of the equation - is also helpful in lowering the risk of obesity. The reason lies in how breastfeeding guides a baby's development of basic, healthy eating habits.
At this young age, these habits center on recognizing hunger and fullness cues, and avoiding overfeeding.
Here are five ways to teach these same habits to bottle-fed infants:
1. Bottle-Feed On Cue.
One of the first lessons to be learned by breastfeeding mothers is how to recognize their baby's earliest hunger cues, well before they cry. This not only makes a good latch much easier to attain, but also establishes an abundant milk supply. Since this isn't a priority of the formula-feeding mother, it may be tempting to try to get baby on a feeding schedule.
But what does this teach babies about their own hunger cues?
Bottle-feeding according to baby's early hunger cues teaches babies to be sensitive to their feelings of hunger, rather than to ignore them. A bottle-fed baby who is hungrier more often than as scheduled is being taught to ignore their hunger cues and may not thrive as well as a baby who is fed more often. Newborns are biologically wired to feed more frequently than every three hours.
A baby who finally feeds when feeling very strong hunger cues - indicated by loud crying - is more likely to continue taking the bottle even after feeling fullness cues. This results in a baby learning to ignore these cues.
Recognizing our own hunger and fullness cues is an important part of self-regulating our food intake, and not taking in more calories than we need. And the same holds true for our babies and children.
2. Don't Overuse the Pacifier.
Pacifiers can be very handy. I particularly liked to use them while driving in the car when, short of me growing an extra arm, there was no way I could feed my baby on the highway. But like feeding on a schedule, overusing a pacifier can prevent a baby from responding to her hunger and fullness cues appropriately.
If you're going to use a pacifier, use it sparingly. It's better to have a bottle on hand when you go on even short outings. Remember that newborns need to eat frequently and often not on any semblance of a schedule (if they're feeding according to their hunger cues).
3. Use a Slow-Flow Nipple.
No matter what shape of bottle nipple you use, opt for the slowest-flow nipple your baby can manage. For many healthy, full-term babies, this will be a slow-flow nipple. This may not be the case for a baby born prematurely, who requires medical care in the hospital, or who has low muscle tone.
If in doubt, contact your baby's health care provider.
The best nipple match for you baby - we'll just assume it's the slow-flow nipple - not only supports better jaw development in the bottle-fed baby but also reduces overfeeding and promotes recognition of fullness cues. This is because baby has to work harder to get the milk or formula out of the bottle; it doesn't just drip out.
4. Pace the Bottle.
Paced bottle-feeding is a technique recommended to breastfeeding mothers returning to the workforce and having difficulty transitioning their breastfed baby to a bottle. It can also help in teaching a young baby to self-regulate the flow from the bottle. This is particularly so if you're already using a slow-flow nipple and it seems that baby is still struggling with the flow.
A baby's physiologic reflex dictates that if milk or formula is flowing into her mouth, she needs to swallow it. This is why a baby may choke or gag, rather than simply stop swallowing. Paced bottle-feeding recognizes that babies cannot prevent overfeeding due to this reflex.
5. Try Bottle Nursing.
Breastfeeding is about so much more than breast milk. The act of breastfeeding also encompasses the benefits of eye contact, nurturing touch and oxytocin, and bonding. Being physically close to mom supports healthy infant mental and physical health. Newborns who spend too much time apart from their mothers have higher stress hormone levels.
Bottle nursing mimics breastfeeding behaviors. The baby is positioned in the same way as if breastfed with the bottle held at about the mother's breast. This way, baby is getting the same level of eye contact and touch as if breastfed. Caring for bottle-feeding babies further supports their budding self-regulation skills in feeding and beyond.