6 Tips To Avoid Overfeeding Your Child

If you are a first-time parent, chances are you may not know how much to feed your child or when to stop. This can lead to alarming health consequences for your child. Here’s what you can do about it.

By Ashwin Dewan

6 Tips To Avoid Overfeeding Your Child

Ruchira Srivastava, mother to four-year-old Neha, like any other mom, assumed she was feeding her child right. She fed large portions of food to her daughter and ensured her little one finished what was served on her plate. 

The doting mother always made sure her daughter never felt hungry and fed her at regular intervals. However, her daughter kept complaining of tummy aches often and one day Neha threw up right after dinner. A worried Ruchira took her child to the nearest clinic and consulted a paediatrician. The doctor explained to Ruchira that she had been overfeeding her daughter and shared tips on how she could help address this problem before it was too late.

This case is not an isolated one. There are many mothers, especially new ones, who end up overfeeding their babies. They do so in a genuine effort to ensure their children are well fed with ample intake of vital nutrients that foster child development and growth. Further, the common notion ingrained in the mindset of society is that a chubby child is a healthy child, which prompts parents to go overboard. However, this is not true.

Unfortunately, no matter how well-intended your desire to overfeed your child may be, it can set the stage for future health problems like obesity for your child. For, childhood obesity is a lifestyle disease that is steadily on the rise and cannot be ignored.

According to a research study titled, ‘Childhood Obesity: The Indian Scenario Compared with World Wide’, published in the Diabetes and Obesity Journal by Juniper Publishers, the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) declared that about 10 per cent of children in India aged 5—17 (about 155 million) were overweight, out of which two to three per cent (30 to 45 million) were obese. 

Among the reasons for childhood obesity were junk and processed food. Add that to the fact that outdoor activities have been replaced by digital ones, and we have a scenario where children are eating more calories than they can expend.

“Any abnormal or rapid increase of weight on the weighing scale for preschoolers may seem insignificant but, if left unchecked, it can turn into a huge problem and lead to medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure later,” says Dr Mubashir.

Another report by the World Health Organization (WHO), published in a medical journal called ‘The Lancet’ states that the prevailing obesity rates among children across the globe have increased from 1 per cent in 1975 to 6 per cent in girls and 8 per cent in boys in 2016. Alarming, isn’t it?

How to tell if your preschooler is overfed

A preschooler may not be able to convey properly or give definite signs to indicate that you are overfeeding her. However, if she turns away from what is being served to her, is not hungry for the next meal or has started putting on weight at a rapid rate, it means you are overfeeding her.

What happens when you overfeed your preschooler

Here are the consequences of overfeeding:

  1. Abnormal weight gain/obesity: Since your little one is constantly getting food at regular intervals, whether she likes it or not, it can result in excess calories and weight gain. This could lead to more serious illnesses later in her life, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
  2. Worsening of acid reflux: If your child suffers from acid reflux (also known as heartburn or acid indigestion, which occurs when stomach acid travels upwards towards the throat region), overfeeding can make it worse.
  3. Bouts of vomiting: One of the most obvious signs of overfeeding is frequent vomiting. There is only so much that your child’s stomach can take and digest.
  4. Stomach aches: Your preschooler ends up suffering from excess flatulence and he might complain of regular episodes of tummy aches and acidity.

We understand you must be concerned now about the way you are feeding your child. Here are some informative tips on how you can avoid overfeeding.

How to avoid overfeeding your preschooler

If you are unsure where to draw the line when it comes to feeding your baby, here are some tips from an expert doctor.

  1. Do not pressurise your preschooler: As parents, you do not want your children to go hungry. And, you want them to receive the required nutrients for their overall growth and development. However, if they are not eating, do not pressurise them. They can always eat later when they feel hungry. 
  2. Go easy on the sweet stuff: Do not indulge or rather, overindulge your child with sweetened food items, advises Dr Mubashir. When preschoolers are offered sweet foods like cakes, chocolates and biscuits regularly, they might develop an addictive taste for these items every hour or so. This leads to overfeeding as not only are they having regular meals, but they are also having snacks that are high in sugar in between.
  3. Focus on quality: Do not try to load your kid’s plate with food. Rather than quantity, first and foremost, focus on quality. This means including nutritious food in a single meal. This way, you will get your preschooler to eat a healthy diet, without the unnecessary hassle of him eating a huge quantity to get the same nutrients.
  4. Maintain a fixed eating schedule: One tried and tested way to avoid overfeeding your child is to set a fixed schedule for his meals. Over time, your preschooler will adjust to this routine and feel hungry at relatively around the same time every day. This way he gets used to eating at fixed hours and not eating outside of these mealtimes. In fact, it even eliminates the need to snack during meal intervals.
  5. Observe the toilet habits of your child:  Toilet habits are a simple way to determine if your child is overfed or not. Is your child going to the toilet more frequently making you worry that it might be an upset stomach or a tummy bug? Well, it could simply be a case of overfeeding.
  6. Avoid force-feeding: If your child has eaten relatively well and looks distressed and conveys to you that she doesn’t want more, watch out for those cues and stop. Do not force-feed, as it sets a pattern of unhealthy binge eating and your child will not be able to recognise her body cues and know when to stop. So, keep a check on the amount you feed her from an early age itself. You may decide what and when she eats, but not how much she consumes.
 “Parents often try to force their preschooler to eat. This is totally a wrong approach as preschoolers tend to eat less on some occasions and more on others. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about,” says Dr Mubashir.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure you do not overfeed your preschooler. This habit of overfeeding will only have a negative impact on your preschooler's health and children might succumb to overeating and overindulgence when they are older. Overfeeding a baby is one problem that can be effectively handled by most parents and nipped in the bud.

So, follow some basic tips like the ones mentioned and keep a watch on your child’s eating habits. Also, watch out for any cues or signs from your child and take some steps to ensure your little one gets his daily required dose of nutrients without the need for overfeeding. Should it turn into an issue that you are unable to control, you can always take the help of your family doctor to tackle it in the most appropriate way.

Dr Mubashir Shah is Consultant, Paediatrics & Neonatology, at a leading hospital.

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