Toddler Chub: Threat or Menace?

September 6, 2006

Motherhood has been surprisingly wonderful.

I don’t know why– maybe it’s mass media’s depiction of harried, mini van-driving women in Mom Jeans or something– but I always expected motherhood to be exhausting. And frustrating. And thankless.

Well, exhausting it is– but it’s an exhilirating, satisfying exhaustion. Frustrations have, thankfully, been minimal. And the smile on my daughter’s face when she sees me at the end of the day is more thanks than I could ever hope for.

But…there’s always a but. I’ve had one nagging worry since very shortly after my daughter’s birth: that she is too fat.

Doctors tell me not to worry. Friends and family say her chubby cheeks and roly-poly thighs are to die for. But I can’t shake the fear that I’m somehow setting my daughter up for a lifetime of obesity, and I should be doing something about it. Stories like this, which seem to appear with dismaying regularity, certainly don’t help. The latest headache-inducing headline: “Toddlers don’t always outgrow chubbiness.”

Pudgy toddlers face a good chance of becoming overweight 12-year-olds, according to government research that shoots down the notion that kids just naturally outgrow early chubbiness.

Children who were overweight at age 2 or later during their preschool years faced a five times higher risk of being overweight at age 12 than youngsters who were not overweight early on, the study found. Sixty percent of the children who were overweight at any time during the preschool period were overweight at age 12.

My worries go back to my daughter’s infancy. Once we got past our initial latching issues, she nursed like a champ and gained weight very quickly. From the time she was 3 months old, she has been off the weight charts. “Is she too big? Should I feed her less?” I would ask her pediatrician. “She’s the boss right now, she decides how much to eat, and there’s no such thing as a fat baby,” he reassured me.

Today she is almost 20 months old and weighs 33 pounds. She is active and bright and beautiful, if I do say so myself. She doesn’t watch TV. She doesn’t drink juice and has never even been inside a McDonald’s. She remains a hungry girl who loves bananas, blueberries, cheese and Goldfish crackers.

At her last Well Baby visit, I asked the doctor if her weight was a concern. The doctor checked her chart, said her weight gain is still following the same curve it always has, and that there’s nothing to worry about.

“She’s just a big, healthy girl,” the doctor told me.

So why am I still worried? Why isn’t that reassurance enough?

I just want her to be healthy. I want to do right by her. Diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity run in my side of the family. On my husband’s side, the worry is heart disease and high cholesterol. I see all the dire reports about how fat we all are, and how obesity-related issues cause more deaths than anyone realizes and I just want to protect my daughter.

On an intellectual level, I know we aren’t doing anything wrong, and we’re good parents raising a healthy girl. On an emotional level, I just can’t help but worry about what the future may hold.

My deepest fear: that my neurotic worrying will someday give my daughter a complex about her weight, even though I don’t mean to. The very thought of it makes me well up.

How do I shut off these fears? Or is there anyway to learn how to live with them?

Talk to me, ladies! And take the poll, which I cribbed shamelessly from MSNBC. 🙂