1. Breastfeed for as Long as Possible
Breastfed babies not only “lean out” sooner, they’re also less likely to become obese later in childhood. What’s more, the longer a baby breastfeeds, the better her chances of growing up at a healthy weight. That’s because breastfeeding teaches her not to overeat. When she feels full, she naturally slows down or stops nursing. This helps her identify her hunger signals and regulate the amount she eats at each meal, a habit she’s likely to carry into childhood.
Breastfeeding also keeps your baby from equating food with comfort. After he fills up on breast milk, he may continue to suckle, but in a slow way that gives very little milk. As a result, he learns to associate the good feelings that come from sucking with the warm sensation of being held in your arms, not with having a too-full tummy.
2. Learn to Read Your Baby When Feeding Him Formula
Without baby-to-breast contact, bottle-feeding may be less intuitive than breastfeeding, but you still can help your child develop healthy eating habits by following his feeding cues. Offer formula when he’s hungry, not according to a schedule—a young baby’s tummy is about the same size as his fist, which means he’ll do better with smaller, more frequent feedings. By the same token, let him decide when he’s full. There’s no need for him to finish the last ounce or half-ounce in the bottle if he’s not interested. If he’s simply crying for comfort, use music, massage or rocking instead of a bottle to soothe him.
Follow this pattern once she starts eating solids too—just because she’s eating table foods doesn’t mean she needs to clean her plate. Smaller, more frequent meals are perfectly fine for your growing baby. Allowing a child to stop eating when her hunger is satisfied teaches her to trust her eating cues, helping to prevent overeating from becoming a habit.
3. Limit the “Terrible Two”—HFCS and Trans Fats
Once your baby is ready for table foods (at about 6 months), watch for corn syrup (or high-fructose corn syrup) and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (a source of unhealthy trans fats)—a duo of factory-made ingredients found in many processed snack foods that provide empty calories. Foods that depend on these for flavor and texture teach children to prefer sweeter, fattier fare, putting them on the road to being overweight. Make it a habit to check the label before you buy, and avoid foods that have the “terrible two”—instead, look for foods labeled “saturated-fat free” or “contains no trans-fats”, or give your little one healthier snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables.