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Ask Dr. Sears: Baby's an Overenthusiastic Eater

Q. My baby is a little over 10 months old. She has a very healthy appetite, and will try anything you feed her. However, she weighs 26 pounds. I'm wondering if we could possibly be overfeeding her, and if we are, how can we tell? Also, how much should a baby her age eat at one meal?

A. While it's wonderful that your baby isn't a picky eater, you are still wise to be concerned about the possibility of overfeeding. The current epidemic of childhood obesity has prompted pediatricians to take a closer look at early infant feeding practices. At 26 pounds, your baby is at the top of the growth chart for weight, so it's natural to be concerned. Here's what you can do to ensure your baby gets proper nutrition, without overfeeding her:

If breastfeeding, don't worry 

When I see a "heavy" baby who's breastfed, I seldom worry because these babies almost always slim down naturally between the first and second year. (In fact, most big babies, regardless of how they are fed, go through a normal leaning out period sometime during the second year.) Studies show that breastfed babies, even the ones considered overweight on the growth charts, are much less likely to be heavy as older children. Breastfeeding has natural obesity-preventing properties, likely due to instinctive stop-feeding cues that all breastfed babies have. Also, as you continue to nurse, the fat content of breast milk normally declines over time.

Check the amount of formula 

If your baby is formula-fed, discuss the appropriate amount and type of formula to feed with her pediatrician. As a general guide, a 10-month-old baby will need about an ounce of formula per pound of weight per day.

Make your own baby food 

It's difficult to gain a harmful amount of weight when eating healthy foods. There are certain foods that babies can eat as much of as they want, which I call grow foods—and vegetables are a prime example. Steam and puree them for your baby. Since you are blessed with a non-picky eater who enjoys eating, let her eat as much vegetables as she wants. There are many parents who are not as lucky! By making your own baby food, you'll shape your child's tastes toward what good, wholesome food is supposed to taste like. There has been some concern that fruit (in my opinion, another great grow food) contains too much sugar. However, the high fiber content makes them more satisfying, so kids are less likely to overeat. Other healthy foods with a high satiety factor include eggs, avocados, lentils, oatmeal, seafood, whole grains, beans, and vegetables.

Are there obesity risk factors in your family?

Take a look at your family members—is obesity common? If so, your baby might be genetically prone to weight gain. But if lean body types dominate, she's at a lower risk. Even in infancy, there are different body types. "Bananas" (long and lean) are naturally calorie-burners, and will be less prone to becoming overweight. "Apples" (shorter and rounder at the middle) are at a higher risk for obesity. Figure out which body type your baby has, and make sure she eats right for her shape.

Raise a grazer

Infants and toddlers tend to normally eat small, frequent meals, so continue to encourage that eating pattern. Grazers tend to be leaner, and eating less more often is also easier on the digestive system.

Feed a fistful at a time 

As your baby grows, continue to think about portion size. Your baby's tummy is about the size of her fist. So, if you feed her one baby-sized fistful of food at a time, that will make for a more than adequate meal.