Is being chubby good for baby's health

My heart reaches out to mothers who equate healthy baby with chubbiness and plumpness. Media projects images of ‘perfect baby’ who is fair with blue eyes, chubby cheeks and a wholesome built. But like all other deceptions, this idealistic projection has turned into a dangerous fad. It’s high time we stop trusting media stereotypes and use our own discretion in perceiving a truly healthy baby!

Ideal Birth weight

It is important that a mother takes all efforts during pregnancy to ensure that newborn has an ideal birth weight (3 – 3.5kg/ 6.5 -7.5lbs).  Most babies who are born full term (38-40 weeks gestation) weigh between 6-9lbs (2.7 – 4kg). An average Indian baby weighs approximately 2.8 kg and is 51 cm long. Babies born closer to the ideal weight are better protected against diseases in later life. Low birth weight has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as weight at birth of less than 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs). If your child is anywhere above this weight, then he/she is normal and does not need be treated like an underweight baby with excessive feeding.

To begin with, pregnant women in India are often less aware of difference between ‘appropriate nutrition’ and ‘good nutrition’. The former is more important as the right type and variety of foods which provide the whole range of nutrients vital to foetal growth and development need to be emphasized rather than merely increased quantity of preferred foods. This ignorance often leads to mothers gaining all the unnecessary weight while the baby is born underweight with compromised nutritional status.

Energy dense versus nutrient dense

To make things worse, the baby born with low birth weight is then overfed to ensure weight gain. Overfeeding often involves excess intake of energy dense foods laden with fats and sugars while the emphasis should be on nutrient dense foods. Nutrient dense foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and milk products which can meet the complete macronutrient (energy, protein, fat) and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants) requirements.

Rules of Thumb – Weight

—  Term infants regain birth weight by 2 weeks

—  Term infants double their birth weight by 4-5 months and triple birth weight by 1 year of age

—  Birth weight quadruples by 24 months

—  After Age 2, normal weight gain is 5 lbs/year until adolescence

As long as this weight range is achieved, we can be assured that the baby is receiving optimal nutrition for growth.

Health risks in Low birth weight (LBW) infants

Incorrect means of achieving catch-up growth in low birth weight infants often lands him/her at greater risk of diseases in later life. Extensive researches on causes of obesity lead to tracing back the birth weight in obese adults. A startling finding was that infants born as low birth weight were more predisposed to growing into obese adults.

Some of the severe problems that could occur in the future for LBW infants are as follows:

  • Breathing problems
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar
  • Problems with feeding
  • Polyglobulia or an increase in red blood cells leading to thickening of blood

Isn’t it ironical that infants born with low birth weight grow into obese adults with greater risk of diabetes and heart disease? The obvious reason for this is faulty feeding practices adopted by mothers or care-givers. Also, excessive stress upon overfeeding to gain weight results in a diminished understanding of satiety (feeling of fullness) among the infants right from birth. The baby is fed much beyond their level of hunger and as they grow older they lose perception of appropriate portion sizes to consume at one time and recognizing satiety signals to stop feeding.

Studies have shown that the risk of overweight children to become overweight adults is at least twice as high compared with normal-weight children. So it is important to monitor weight right from childhood. Confirm with your pediatrician or dietitian as to whether your child is meeting the growth standards in terms of height and weight.

As mothers, it is our primary duty and responsibility to shape our child’s future in the right way by:

–          Ensuring normal growth and physical activity for age

–          Giving time to understand, relish and CHEW foods properly by avoiding hurried meals

–          Helping to develop understanding of hunger and satiety by avoiding meals in front of TV, mobile or tabs.

–          Avoid influence of media or other social pressures in determining your child’s optimal nutrition

For expecting mothers, it is important to keep a track of their health indicators, not just during pregnancy but even post childbirth. They can upload their medical reports on eKincare – Your Personal Health Manager  & keep a track of their health indicators and manage their health better.

Written by drpoojachhawcharia

Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.

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