Why Worry About Weight?

Deep in the middle of these cold winter months, we just eat more – to stay warm, to celebrate, because we are bored. As adults we have lots and lots of reasons for eating. Infants, however, are born with just one reason to eat: because they are hungry.

There has been much made of weight gain in infants during the past few years. To new parents, it is one of the clearest ways that growth can be measured, and so often there is a pressure to manage weight gain and track it closely.

The great news is that unless there is a medical issue, babies are ready to take on the responsibility of feeding themselves very early on. They have a clear and attention-grabbing way of letting you know they are hungry – crying – and they are often very clear about when they are finished. As your baby grows and you learn about his more subtle cues for hunger, he will trust that you will take care of his needs even without ear-splitting screams. As this feeding relationship grows, your baby will eat when hungry, and stop when full; and in that way he will continue to grow and gain weight at a typical pace.

As adults, we often want to intervene in this system. It is hard to imagine that an infant has eaten enough, or really knows when she is full. They are so small and helpless in so many things, we want to take a more active role in ensuring that they are making the correct decisions about eating. The best “check” for this is weight gain. So there has been a tendency to find weekly weights, and track the gain carefully.

Rest assured, a healthy baby will not let herself go hungry. Her whole body is deeply invested in getting nutrition. In the same way, the hungry baby will stop when she is full. Her turn away from you, her shifting of attention to somewhere else, is a cue you can follow and respect.

Watch your baby’s diapers for regular removal of urine and bowel movements. Watch to see that your baby has active periods during her day and is not lethargic. Focus on her engagement with you. Her weight will take care of itself.

Your pediatrician has the medical expertise to follow your baby’s growth chart and ensure that the rate of growth is typical. The doctor visits are a great time to talk about concerns, and the medical profession offers the most research-based and accurate strategies for ensuring weight gain. The rate of pediatrician visits in the first months of life ensures that your baby is assessed at regular intervals to ensure optimal health and growth.

Feeding is a pattern of interaction that is most successful when we follow baby’s cues; baby learns she can trust that we will provide, and not push. Finding ways to make mealtime an enjoyable time between parent and child will set the foundation for years to come.

The Ellyn Satter Institute’s website has more age-specific tips for healthy feeding and nutrition.

Bon Appetit!