Maternal style of feeding when infants transition from a milk-based diet to solid foods influences risk of obesity in childhood (American Heart Association [AHA] et al., 2006). Fisher, Birch, Smicklas-Wright, and Picciano (2000) reported that mothers who breastfed their infants for 12 months or longer were more responsive to the hunger and satiety cues of their infants and used lower levels of control over infants’ food choices, amounts, and frequency when feeding their children as toddlers when compared to mothers whose infants were fed formula. Similarly, Taveras et al. (2004) reported that breastfeeding promoted maternal responsiveness to infants’ hunger and satiation cues and the development of shared parent-infant regulation of food. Mothers who breastfed for longer duration were not as likely to control or restrict their child’s food intake at 1 year of age.
Mothers who breastfed their infants used lower levels of control over infants’ food choices, amounts, and frequency when feeding their children as toddlers.
Maternal control of children’s food intake has been linked to mothers’ own weight status. Wardle, Sanderson, Guthrie, Rapoport, and Plomin (2002) found that obese mothers exerted greater control over their child’s food intake (e.g., deciding how many snacks their child should have), while normal-weight mothers demonstrated less control, allowing children to self-regulate. Farrow and Blissett (2006) observed 69 mothers and found that mothers with high controlling behaviors whose infants had a high rate of weight gain from birth to 6 months also gained more weight during the last part of their first year, when compared to infants with less controlling mothers. Infants of low- or moderately controlling mothers appeared to self-regulate’ their own weight gain over their first year.
Infants’ and toddlers’ ability to self-regulate dietary intake was explored by Fox, Devaney, Reidy, Razafindrakoto, and Ziegler (2006). Infants and toddlers who ate less frequently during the day consumed larger-than-average portions at each eating occasion, whereas infants who ate more frequently consumed smaller-than-average portions. Infants fed more energy dense foods (computed as kilocalories/gram for all foods and beverages over a 24-hour period) ate smaller portions than infants who ate less energy dense foods. Additionally, the more variety of foods that infants 6 to 11 months of age were given, the greater the portion sizes they consumed, a finding that was not observed in older and younger age groups.