Tackling Overfeeding in Infants and Discovering the Short- and Long-term Effects, Including Obesity

Everyday one passes young infants, seeing within the children many different faces, bodies, and shapes. Some are tiny and skinny; others are pudgy and fat. The pudgy ones often receive labels, such as “marshmallow kid” or “Michelin tire baby”. Meant in fun, the givers of these labels do not know what effects the infant will experience later in life, effects that are much more dangerous than labeling. Overfeeding causes the “marshmallow effect” on the infant. It is necessary for parents to discover what overfeeding entails, what the immediate effects are on their infant, and what long-term effects could occur throughout the infant’s life.

The definition of an overweight infant, as given by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, is “a baby who gains weight far out of proportion to his growth in height”(Schmitt B.D.). These infants have the “rolls” on their body or the “marshmallow effect”; this look is not very healthy for these children, even if it does make them look “cute”. These infants can be seen anywhere, and come from many different cultures. An overweight body in an infant is directly connected to overfeeding by the parents.

Hearing a crying or tired infant can cause a parent to turn to the only source of quick comfort- food. When a parent constantly gives an infant food to quiet them, the infant begins to use food as a comforting device, much like teenagers and adults sometimes do. Overfeeding can also entail feeding an infant more than what is recommended by pediatricians. At birth, feeding every two hours is best; every three hours is best from two to six months of age. When the infant reaches six months, switching the child to three meals and two snacks is the best route. Parents should never give a child a bottle of milk or juice to sleep with or carry around; children will learn to rely on these and take in more than they need, simply because they have the means to do so. Increased caloric intake beyond what is necessary is unhealthy. Infants do need a lot of nutrition at this stage of life, but too much can be dangerous.

It is easy for a new parent to say that they won’t break these feeding rules; however, the reality is that the temptation to quickly quiet a crying baby in the middle of the night so that the parents can garner more sleep can overcome even the most diligent of parents. Even with the determination to never do it again, parents may turn to that late night bottle more and more simply because it works and allows the parent to go back to bed quicker. During the day when the parent may be too busy to take time out to calm the infant, the parent may give the infant a bottle, figuring that the child is hungry. To some, food is the quickest and easiest solution to quiet tears and screams.

While the effects may not show right away, they can have an effect on the infant later on in life. Children who are overfed as infants have a greater chance of becoming obese as teenagers and adults. With the rising rate of obesity in children on the rise, it is best to try and curb this possibility when the child is very young. By prolonging the introduction of solids or any foods beyond formula until about six months, the parents have the best chance at keeping their child off the obese path at a young age. After the child is eating solids, it is best to keep away sugary foods. Young children do not need these empty calories as a part of their daily nutritional intake. Obesity, however, is the main concern for the future of the infant. Overfeeding can cause the infant to rely on food more constantly than the average child, thus increasing his or her food intake. If unnecessary, sugary foods are added to an infant’s diet, this too can add to the obesity factor.

Obesity is an up and coming negative popularity in today’s society. More and more children are becoming obese, and overfeeding is a part of that problem, especially if the infant is bottle-fed at an earlier age. Breast milk is easily broken down by the infant’s body and quickly digested. Formula has more calories in it and takes longer for the infant’s body to break down. Technically, it is safer to feed an infant more breast milk than formula, but this shouldn’t be risked. Formula is more commonly given to infants at early ages if the mother works outside of the home; usually a daycare provider or family relative is given the task of feeding the infant following the parents’ guidelines, whether or not they agree with them. Formula feeding puts the infant at greater risk for overfeeding and weight gain; it also leads to higher blood pressure in the system as well.

Short-term effects of overfeeding can include babies spitting up after feedings more frequently, or continuing this reflex even after they should have stopped. Babies that are overfed can also have more diarrhea, a sign to look for if a parent is unsure of overfeeding. The most common short-term effect is the small fat rolls that develop all over the infant’s body. Many of these short-term effects can easily be taken care of if a parent is cautious and tries to correct the overfeeding before it is too late. However, if the parent ignores the short-term signs, then the long-term signs could set in and the child may never get out of the obese role, staying that way throughout life in some cases.

Parents can take preventive measures to avoid overfeeding, or to stop it. A parent should never force an infant to finish off the last bit of a bottle if the infant is refusing it. If an infant is pushed far enough, they will continue to eat; infants do not have the ability to always tell you they are full and without verbal communication, body language is the only way. The same thing goes for if a child is on baby foods-never force the child to finish a dish they are refusing. Another measure is to avoid the bottle at bed or allowing the child to carry it around. Food should never be the quick solution; parents should instead try to cuddle and calm the infant through touch, allowing the infant to rely on the touch of others to calm him or her, instead of food. If an infant is constantly crying, he or she is not always hungry, especially if he or she ate just a little while ago. If a parent cannot stand the child’s crying and cannot comfort the child, it is best to lay he or she down and simply walk away. The child will eventually learn how to calm him- or herself and not have to rely on food.

Conclusively, parents can stop the “marshmallow effect” by watching for signs of overfeeding in their infant and by simply cutting back on feeding the infant more than is necessary. By trying to prevent or correct these signs, parents will not have to worry about an obese infant turning into an obese child or adult. Following these steps for prevention can lead to a lower percentage of obese children in our society, and we won’t have as many infants qualifying to be Michelin Tire Babies, no matter how cute they are.

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