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Watch those lovin’ spoonfuls

Panel, survey say mums of infants are served heaping portions of misinformation on overfeeding. 

Many Australian mothers hold perceptions that are unknowingly leading to the overfeeding of infants, a recent online survey by Luma Research for Aspen Nutritionals shows.

The results demonstrate that mothers have myriad misconceptions with regards to the idea of a healthy baby; 75 per cent believe a chubby baby is a healthy baby and 91 per cent think an infant’s developing mobility will lead naturally to loss of baby fat.

Other findings suggest a need for education around appropriate feeding intakes, as 85 per cent of mothers agree you can underfeed a baby, but only 47 per cent recognise it’s possible to overfeed.

Anne Partridge, child and family health nurse and former director of nursing and clinical services at Tresillian Family Care Centres, says overweight infants should be identified, as a child would be.

She was part of a panel of experts, including a paediatrician and dietitian, that confirmed skewed perceptions of a healthy baby could be setting up some children for weight problems later in life.

“Mothers of newborns deal with an overwhelming amount of mixed-quality information – and feeding is no exception,” Partridge says. “Given the reliance mothers have on nurses to help them get feeding right, it’s vital we intercede where we see an infant moving up the percentiles or experiencing rapid growth.”

The survey found that 68 per cent of mothers who breastfeed or combination feed were not aware of the volume appropriate for breastfed infants five months of age. Equally alarming, 36 per cent of the mothers solely using formula did not agree it was possible to feed a baby too much. More than a third even used regurgitation as a cue to determine how much to feed.

“The more optimal role of breastfeeding versus formula should be addressed where there is still an option,” Partridge says. “And be advised on the correct feeding volumes if [patients] are using formula.”

She also confirmed many parents aren’t aware of the ramifications of overfeeding or having an overweight infant until a health professional has had the conversation with them.

In the 12 months after birth, the study found, child and family health nurses were the most trusted health professionals on feeding matters for children (46 per cent), whilst 31 per cent nominated paediatricians and 21 per cent picked GPs.

The survey also found that 61 per cent of parents were interested in knowing about the links between obesity during infancy and early childhood – and the majority looked to nurses as their chief advisers. As the health professional of choice on the matter then, nurses have a big role to play in educating parents on feeding.

“Some of the cues [parents] are reading as ‘I want to be fed’ might just mean they are over-tired, the baby needs sleep or something else,” Partridge says.

Results suggest that there are many reasons why babies are overfed, many of which Partridge says are consistent with her experience.

Aside from not knowing about correct amounts, common reasons for overfeeding include misreading cues and trying to settle an upset baby, often with the thought of creating a more peaceful environment.

Partridge stresses the importance of communicating with mothers about the negative effects of using feeding as a default to help an unsettled baby to sleep, stressing that it might work initially but it won’t work overall.

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