How would I know if my baby is too heavy?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

If you're concerned about your baby's weight or body composition — too much "baby fat" — be sure to consult your baby's doctor regularly. Growth, development and weight are great topics to discuss during routine well-child visits.

Since infants tend to carry different amounts of weight at different stages of development, making judgments about baby fat on the basis of appearance alone isn't reliable or effective.

Instead, your baby's doctor will plot your baby's growth on charts that show measurements for height, weight, head circumference and body mass index (BMI). You can use the charts to compare your baby's growth with that of other infants of the same sex and age.

Remember, though, what matters more is the trend revealed on growth charts — not any particular percentile. Your baby's doctor will look mainly for predictable changes in weight over time.

Also, keep in mind that babies need a diet high in fat to support growth during infancy. In fact, a baby who's exclusively breast-fed gets about half of his or her daily calories from the fat in breast milk.

Excess fat and calories can still be a concern, though. For example, being too heavy can delay crawling and walking — essential parts of a baby's physical and mental development.

To help prevent excess baby fat:

  • Monitor your weight gain during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can increase a baby's birth weight. Research suggests that as birth weight increases, so does the risk of childhood obesity.
  • Breast-feed your baby for as long as possible. Breast-feeding seems to reduce the risk of childhood obesity. In one study, babies who were bottle-fed in early infancy were more likely to empty the milk in a bottle or cup in late infancy than were babies who were breast-fed. Other studies have had similar results, suggesting that children who were breast-fed as babies are better able to respond to hunger cues — and stop eating when they're full.
  • Remember that juice isn't a necessary part of a baby's diet. Don't offer juice from birth to age 6 months, unless it's needed to treat constipation. If you choose to offer juice after age 6 months, serve it in a cup rather than a bottle and limit it to 4 ounces (118 milliliters) a day.
  • Experiment with various ways to soothe your baby. Don't automatically turn to breast milk or formula to quiet your baby's cries. Sometimes a new position, a calmer environment or a gentle touch is all that's needed.

As your child gets older, continue talking to his or her doctor about weight and nutrition. For additional guidance, you might consult a registered dietitian as well.

Jul. 14, 2012 See more Expert Answers