Will Spoon-Feeding Make My Baby Fat?
If you soak up the media like I do, you might have noticed an alarming headline recently out of the UK: “Spoon-fed babies are ‘more likely to become obese’ because their bodies don’t recognize when they are full.”
As a pediatric dietitian and mom of four, I have to take issue with this headline and set the record straight. Aside from making every parent who reads this panic with self-doubt and regret, the claim that “baby’s bodies don’t recognize when they are full” is simply untrue.
To the contrary, there is plenty of research that shows us babies are the supreme regulators of their appetite. Babies are born with an innate ability to self-control their food intake. They are naturally and keenly aware of their hunger and fullness—from the start.
Secondly, as a mom who spoon-fed each and every one of my four children, I can say that it did not make them fat.
Why? Perhaps because I already knew that they could regulate their food consumption by showing me when they needed to eat (point, fuss, go to the kitchen, cry) and also when they were finished eating (turn their head, push the spoon away, shake their head “no” or squeeze their lips shut).
Or maybe it was because I watched for the signs of fullness and I responded to them.
The problem with stating that spoon-feeding causes an infant to become overweight is it’s not the spoon that is problematic.
The hand behind the spoon is the problem.
In a 2012 review article in the Journal of Obesity, authors summarized how parents are key to helping children preserve their natural ability to regulate eating through feeding practices and understanding their child’s temperament. Unfortunately, baby’s natural ability to control eating may be lost due to how they are fed.
- Dad encourages extra baby food bites to finish off the jar or bowl.
- Mom is wary of letting baby hold the spoon to self-feed because this will be too messy.
- Grandpa chooses to offer tastes of his dessert.
The hand that feeds has all the power, not the spoon.
To preserve your baby’s natural appetite, tune in to your baby’s hunger and fullness signals, and respond to them—you’ll be less likely to under- or overfeed him or her. If you offer nutritious foods, your baby will be unlikely to look for more than he or she needs. And if you can teach baby to self-feed, and trust your baby to know, intuitively, how much he or she needs to satisfy their appetite, then you and your baby will be on the way to healthy eating and weight, even if you use a spoon.