In the first year of life, a baby goes from a primarily reflexive newborn to a crawling or walking baby. This requires a lot of work and development for the child. Parents want to make sure that their child is right on target for developmental milestones. For centuries, fat rolls on a baby were a sign of good health. However, with the added concern over childhood obesity, many parents are looking at thinking carefully about substantial fat rolls on their baby.
Babies and Fat
Fat is important to babies. A breastfed baby gets about half her daily calories from the fat in breast milk. Babies fed formula have a similar fat content. The baby needs this much fat, because fat is necessary for proper brain development. During the first year of life, your baby’s brain and nervous system grows, with the brain nearly doubling in size. In addition, the brain needs fat to process myelination, which are the connections between brain cells and which are critical to the child’s cognitive development. Without enough fat in her diet, your baby may not reach her full cognitive potential.
Some babies are larger than others are, and studies show that this affects babies’ development. A study from the University of North Carolina followed 217 babies from 3 months of age to 18 months. The babies were of all sizes and weights. During this period, researchers recorded the babies' weight, their general development, and the amount of subcutaneous fat on each baby. For the study, researchers considered a baby to be overweight if it had rolls of fat under the skin. The study found that babies who had rolls of fat were twice as likely to score low on motor development tests.
How Fat Affects Development
Researchers found that babies with high levels of subcutaneous fat were less active than leaner age mates. In addition, babies in the 90th percentile or higher in weight for their gender were slower to crawl and walk. This extra fat added weight, which meant that the baby needed more abdominal strength to sit. In addition, the baby needed greater upper body strength to push her body into a crouching pose than if she were a leaner baby. She also needed stronger leg muscles to carry the weight. These stronger muscles take more time to develop, and this development time slows the child’s gross motor development.
What Parents Can Do
Pediatricians and researchers all warn parents against reducing the baby’s fat intake. Fat is vital to the myelination and general brain development. Instead, look to other ways to control your baby’s calorie intake. In the first six months, keep juice out of your child’s diet. After six months, give the baby juice sparingly. Keep this sugary treat to less than four ounces a day. Your baby cries for a wide range of reasons, so don’t get in the habit of feeding him every time he is upset. Try soothing your baby with your voice or affection before offering the breast or bottle. Finally, play with your baby. Actively engage your baby in play and help him to develop his muscles right on schedule.