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Baby's feeding habits may predict childhood obesity

May 12, 2009 |  4:06 pm

Feedings are special times for mother and baby to bond. But feeding sessions may also offer clues about early causes of childhood obesity.

How mothers behave while feeding their infants was the focus of a recent study out of Rutgers University in which 96 low-income, minority mothers were observed while giving formula to their children. Researchers analyzed various factors that predict weight gain in infants at three stages: from birth to 3 months, from 3 months to 6 months, and from 6 months to 12 months.

Those predictors included birth weight, plus the age, education, BMI, and country of origin of the mother. They also included how many times a day mothers fed their children, and how sensitive they were to signs that the child was full.

For the first six months of the children's lives, none of the factors predicted weight gain. However, from 6 to 12 months some traits did: how many times a day mothers fed their children, and how in tune they were with the cues their babies gave about being full. Mothers who weren't as good at noticing those cues had babies that gained more weight.

But the researchers caution that the information poses a potential problem -- giving mothers suggestions on how and how much to feed their children could be considered unwelcome advice. In the study, they write, "for those mothers who may inevitably elect to use formula, modest interventions may be tried to demonstrate optimal feeding styles. For example ... expectant mothers could view an educational video program that showcases infant behaviors that bear on feeding." The study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

--Jeannine Stein

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