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So Your Doctor Says Your Baby is Overweight?

True story:  A friend of a friend brought her four-month old, exclusively breast-fed infant in for a check-up with a local pediatrician in Pau.  After weighing the baby, the mom (I will call her Kylie) was told scoldingly by the doctor, “You must stop feeding your baby on demand! She is like one of those obese American babies.  From now on, feed her on a schedule.  Every four hours, do not feed her in between.”  (Meanwhile, the mom is Australian, oops, different continent.)

So, this mom was asking me my opinion.  What should she do?  Should she listen to the doctor?  Is her baby overweight?  Should she stop feeding her baby on demand?

MY OPINION?  PLEASE I begged the mom, let me go to the next baby check-up appointment and speak with the doctor.  Because this advice from a reputable pediatrician in Pau was just plain wrong.

Don’t listen to the doctor I told Kylie.  Listen to your instincts.  Keep feeding on demand.  Don’t put your baby on a strict feeding schedule.  Keep breastfeeding and why not, change doctors?  (This is one of the few pediatricians in Pau that speak English, which is why the Australian friend took her baby there.) I don’t agree with feeding young babies on a schedule and I didn’t appreciate the comment on the American obese babies.

But, I am American and all my babies gained a lot of weight in the first few months of breastfeeding.  They were all chubby, big legs, fluffy cheeks.  To see them now is quite  different. They all eventually thinned out and are now lean and healthy.  No, no comments from the pediatricians that my babes were gaining too much weight, but I was charting them myself on the growth/weight charts. They were off the norm.  Not crazy off, but off.  My oldest gained four pounds in the first month of her life.  More than double the average.

What would I do if my doctor had told me back then that my baby was overweight?  If it was my first child?  Panic.  Second child?  Concerned.  Third child?  OK, I can handle this.  Fourth child?  I know what I am doing now.

If your doctor thinks your baby is overweight and wants to do something about it:  LISTEN to their advice.  But trust your instincts.  Here are some ideas to help:

1.  If your doctor wants to put your baby on a feeding schedule (every 3-4 hours).  Get a second opinion.  These baby-training exercises can lead to delayed growth and irritable babies.  Dr. Sears says,  “Infants who are the product of “baby training” (parenting programs in which babies are fed on a schedule and forced to sleep through the night using variations of the “cry-it-out method) often show delayed growth.”

2.  If your baby has colic and uses sucking on a bottle of milk or breastfeeding as a way to calm down, help your baby find other ways to sooth themselves.

3.  Remember that babies shouldn’t be on a diet.

4.  Ask the pediatrician which growth chart they are using to weigh your baby. Since a few years ago (after all my babies were not babies anymore) pediatricians in the states and worldwide should be using new growth/weight charts from the WHO World Health Organization.  These growth charts distinguish between growth and weight between breastfeed babies and toddlers and those who are formula fed.  Be sure that your doctor is using these new WHO charts.  They have the most up-to-date information on accurate weights, especially for breastfed infants. Here is an article that explains in more detail.

5.  Don’t panic.  Often your baby will “thin-out” around a year old, when they become more mobile and especially when they are walking.

So, readers.  Has your doctor ever told you that your baby is fat?  Obese? Overweight?  And what did you do about it?  Shout out your comments below.



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3 Responses to So Your Doctor Says Your Baby is Overweight?

  1. pia September 5, 2011 at 02:00 #

    I am sadly not very surprised… I am French, as you know Mary, and have had my first baby in France, my 2 others in the U.K. … what a difference…. how lucky and totally aware of it I have been to be able to be a mum in the U.K.
    Do not forget that in France, the majority of the mothers work. This is an unspoken duty. Hidden part of the iceberg. The image of the obese american is typical and us French people, we know how to eat, of course. Let’s look at the statistics for a second by the way, we, French are just following you, american, after 10ish years. We have now an obesity problem among children. I am not surprised either about the comment / obese american babies … again, this is a generality. “Dieu merci” not all pediatrician nor French people think that way ! But the comment you are mentionning Mary comes from a health professional ! ! very worrying ! ! ! I will have the same story as you Mary, i breastfed my 2 last babies for about one year, they were very chubby ! and now, they are normally thin and very healthy !
    I think that often in France, rules are guided towards what will be easier for adults, doctors and kids needs easily forgotten. Feeding schedules is so much easier for the adults, isn’t ? Is that a human advice to follow ? Just close your ears and your eyes for not feeling the baby’s distress when he’s hungry ! and don’t forget, they will adapt … yes, at a point they won’t ask anymore, they will have understood, for sure. What is that relationship we are building with them doing so ? ! let’s remember, we are talking about babies ! ! This reminds me of education rules of the 19th / begining of the 20th century… no, this is going on now. What representation do we give them to integrate love relations ? !
    Breastfeed your baby when he needs, he will tell you. The most important ? That you enjoy it, that it is a moment of shared happiness. If not, then, rethink, but not the schedules ! !

    • mbrighton September 5, 2011 at 23:22 #

      Dear Pia, Thank you for this very personal and reflective comment. Actually I applaud the French pediatricians who take steps to slow down the childhood obesity problem. It is not easy to tell a parent or patient that they are overweight in a diplomatic way. Nor is it easy to help offer advice in this area (this is why dietitians have jobs!) However, my experience has been that the pediatricians I have encountered,whether through my clients or personally, do not have the education nor expertise to always guide patients for the right advice when it comes to breastfeeding. Lactation consultants are the best to ask for second advice for breastfeeding issues. It is not the fault of the doctors, their educational training in this area of breastfeeding is limited. The mom in the article dealing with the French pediatrician was confused and questioned her abilities as a parent. How could she allow her baby to get so chubby? Was it ok to feed her baby on demand? Should she listen to this expert and start putting her baby on a schedule? I can imagine that the French doctor was looking at the baby on the growth charts and getting worried. Would this baby turn out obese? However, the real key time for pediatricians to “depistage” (or target early) those kids who will be overweight should occur somewhere at two years old. In fact, an ideal situation is to take the baby’s weight at one year old and then at two years old. If the “now toddler” has jumped two “lines” or curves on the weight chart, then this toddler needs to followed closely to be sure that they stay within normal weights and provide parent education where necessary. Not at 4 months old-predicting that this baby will be obese. If that were the case, I would have some obese kids of my own right now! Thanks again for commenting.


  1. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - September 4, 2011

    RT @mbrighton66 So Your Doctor Says Your Baby is Overweight?: Can a doctor label a baby overweight? In some cou…

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