My little piggie: formula and fat

My son is a little chunker. He was a growth restricted baby, so by all estimates, he should have been about 8 lbs at birth (instead he was born around 6 lbs, which is HUGE for an IUGR baby). He didn’t start gaining until I began pumping expressed breast milk and bottle-feeding him, at which point we went from weight checks to weight-gain warnings. All of which was just the doctors being stupid, because he had a lot of catching up to do, and once we got his eating issues straightened out, he was able to finally gain what he needed. He has remained in the 60th percentile for weight ever since, and skyrocketed up from the 25th to the 70th in height.

Now, I’m a strong believer that you cannot overfeed a newborn – they will spit up whatever is too much, and the whole comfort eating thing is hogwash in my opinion, since most bottle-fed babies will suck on a pacifier for comfort just like breastfed babies will use non-nutritive sucking. (My son never had a problem shoving the bottle away when he was done, and screaming for more when he was hungry. But then again, he’s always been rather opinionated and never shy about letting us know what he wants.)

But with the recent craziness over those overweight and underweight babies denied health insurance, I’ve been seeing a lot of comments on how “breastfed babies can’t be overweight” while formula fed babies can be. Looking at this logically, I just don’t get it. You take two babies of the exact same weight and height percentile curve, and you’re telling me that the formula fed one is overweight while the breastfed one is not? Again, hogwash. Calories are calories, guys. You can get just as fat on organic, whole grain pasta as regular old pasta. (Sadly.)

I also really hate all those studies saying formula feeding leads to childhood obesity. My child is going to be raised a vegetarian with some fish. We use organic, fresh foods in our house, never eat fast food… I come from a family of slim people with a propensity towards eating disorders. My husband is a big eater, to be sure, but he also eats healthier, on average, than any other man I know (heck, he was the one who forced us to do a raw food fast that led to me losing the last stubborn 5 pounds of pregnancy weight, god bless him). Somehow I don’t think my kid is destined to be obese. I don’t care if your kid was exclusively breastfed until he was two, if you start feeding him Cheetos and soda after that and let him sit in front of the Wii for hours on end, you’re gonna be dealing with some health issues. Nutrition over a lifetime is important, not just what you feed them in the first year.

So I was intrigued by this post from

“Researchers studying the influences of body composition in early childhood found that, indeed, babies who were breastfed longer had a lower fat mass that could not be accounted for by genetic differences or height.
But the study isn’t another “Breast is Best” pitch….Just as influential, researchers found, was a child’s weaning diet — both those being weaned from the breast and those being weaned from formula.

Kids who had the better diet during weaning — you know the drill, more fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins — also had greater lean mass by the time they were four years old….while the findings are evidence supporting some claims that breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity in babies, they also show you can undo the breastfeeding bennies rather quickly by going from num-nums to three meals a day of chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers.And also, good nutrition is good nutrition, no matter what you ate in your first year of life.”

I would also add that this probably suggests that even if you are formula feeding, instilling healthy eating habits in your kids can undo the potential of any adverse affects towards future obesity. I have a feeling that these findings linking formula and childhood obesity are more likely due to confounding factors, like the fact that children of well-off moms are more apt to be breastfed, and wealthier moms can afford better quality food (it’s important to note that obesity is also a much larger problem in certain socio-economic and cultural groups than others), but even if they aren’t – rather than worry too much about it, why don’t we all just make it a point to focus on good nutrition for our kids as they grow older? Seems rational.

Thanks to Lifeandtimesofstella for sending me this link. Just like in so many other studies of its ilk,  I love how we don’t hear the caveat at the end of this study. That “oh yeah…and” is often so important, especially for formula feeding moms. It often entails an extra finding that is reassuring in its own way, a little fact or two that makes things seem a bit more rational and less biased. The media loves to ignore these. But don’t worry, guys – that’s what I’m here for!

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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7 thoughts on “My little piggie: formula and fat

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I too come from the same school of thought.

    It has always been, right from day one, easy to tell when he was hungry or when he was done. I think good eating habits is what is important and eating when you are hungry and not eating when you arent.
    Seems common sense to me but hey.

    and as for weight issues – he is just under the 50th percentile for weight and just over for height… yet i have seen so many breastfed babies that are little cute balls of chunky monkey in the 95 percentile.


  2. Kellen has hovered in the 50-60th percentile for weight since he was born… except for the drop to the 5th percentile when he was starving. He is a very muscular kid and not fat despite being formula fed (despite- HA!). And I agree that it is food over a lifetime that is more important than that first year of food.

  3. On my FF post, I balked at writing the effects of BF might be overstated. I've thought about it all day. I just can hear my BF advocate mommy friends calling me out on that one. Do you have a way that you are able to easily explain that without making others defensive?

  4. As soon as I saw it, I thought, Fearless Formula Feeder needs to see this!

    My daughter has been formula fed since 11 and a half weeks old, and she's a very lean baby at 14 months old. It's just who she is.

    I am addicted to your blog. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  5. Yeah… hmmmmmm… my FF Son is 95% for height and 40% for weight. Long and lean. The chubbiest baby (like seriously chubby) in DS's daycare is BF and she's as cute as a bug in a rug. “Findings” like these drive me crazy!!

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