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Trust expert advice for infants’ nutrition

By Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Parents should rely on dietitians’ and medical experts’ recommendations before attempting to alter formula that they prepare for their infant.

Brent Fountain, nutrition specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said newborn babies may need time for their bodies to adjust to nutrients consumed outside the womb. Most babies enter the world with natural abilities to know when they are hungry and to stop eating when they are full.

“Some parents see large babies and worry about long-term weight issues, but there really is no need to practice calorie restriction in the first couple years of life,” Fountain said. “By restricting nutrients, you could impact the needs of other developing systems, such as the brain.”

Fountain said parental concerns about a large baby could come from personal attitudes or fears of obesity.

“Genetics can be a factor for children becoming overweight, but that’s not the only factor,” he said. “There is an expression that genetics load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger. We need to practice moderation. Babies are born with the ability to stop eating when they get full, but that changes as we experience more food choices.”

Fountain said breast milk is the “gold standard” for infant nutrition. When parents must look to other options, formula is designed to be as much like breast milk as possible in terms of nutrition and energy for the baby.

“When mixing formula, caregivers need to follow the instructions to avoid too much or too little nutritional or caloric intake,” he said. “Caregivers should not choose to use more water because they think the baby is overweight or to make the formula last longer. Likewise, they should not overfeed in an attempt to get the baby to sleep longer.”

A recent study published by the Southern Rural Development Center indicated that about 25 percent of the mothers studied diluted their babies’ formula. University of Tennessee researchers found that general attitudes, not level of income, were the deciding factor in most of those cases. The report expressed the need for more education about infant feeding practices.

“Funding for such education is in jeopardy, however, and staff are currently themselves stretched thin,” the report said of government agencies. “According to a report by the USDA, limited staff and clients with scarce resources both constrain efforts to improve nutrition education.”

The study, “Incomes or Attitudes? What Determines Whether Mothers in the WIC Program Dilute or Concentrate Baby Formula,” can be found on the SRDC Web site at http://srdc.msstate.edu/opportunities/ridge/. The SRDC is one of two partnership institutions supported by the USDA Economic Research Service’s Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics program that stimulates research on food and nutrition assistance issues.

Fountain said all parents should take their infants to well-baby doctor visits to monitor growth and development.

“Follow your health-care provider’s recommendations if there are concerns,” he said. “Underweight infants often provide more challenges nutritionally than overweight infants. You want to have a correct energy balance. In some cases, underweight infants may need more calories per ounce.”

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Released: Feb. 25, 2010
Contact: Dr. Brent Fountain, (662) 325-0849