A recent unpublished study being presented at a conference found that the unhealthy practice of adding cereal to babies' bottles tends to occur more often among low-income mothers who are single and/or showing symptoms of depression or high stress.
"Don't add cereal to your baby's bottle."
Lead author Candice Taylor Lucas, MD, a an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, led the study to find out what factors might be contributing to the addition of cereal to infants' bottles.
They studied this trend among low-income, mostly Latino households, which are also home to children at higher risk for obesity. Adding cereal to bottles is a feeding practice discouraged by guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics because it can prevent babies from learning how to regulate their food intake and it can lead to overfeeding and weight gain.
The researchers interviewed the mothers of 254 babies about whether they had ever added cereal to their children's bottles so that their babies would sleep longer or remain full longer. They also looked for symptoms of depression in the women and asked the mothers about their babies' temperament to see if the mothers perceived their children as showing strong emotional reactions.
They analyzed this data along with demographic information about the women, including their age, language, country of origin, marital status, education and income levels.
The researchers found that 24 percent of the mothers added cereal to their children's bottles, and those who showed symptoms of depression were 15 times more likely to add cereal than those who did not show such symptoms.
Those moms who believed their babies showed very strong emotional reactions to daily routines were 12 times more likely to add cereal to their babies' bottles than other moms interviewed.
Single moms and mothers who did not breastfeed were also more likely to add cereal to bottles, though the differences was much smaller. (Single moms were 1.4 times as likely to add cereal as married moms, and non-breastfeeding moms were 1.3 times as likely as nursing mothers.)
"This suggests that mothers' support systems and family dynamics may influence feeding practices," said co-author Mary Jo Messito, MD, an obesity researcher.
Dr. Lucas added that depression is common among low-income mothers, which can make it harder for these women to practice "beneficial parenting practices in general."
"Our results are especially concerning because they suggest that depressed mothers may be more likely to add cereal to the bottle, which may increase their children's risk of obesity," Dr. Lucas said.
She said that support for these parents when it came to healthy feeding practices is an important way to help address childhood obesity.
"Overall, these findings demonstrate that stressors prevalent in low-income households, such as depression, single parenthood and associated infant behavioral challenges, influence feeding practices likely to promote obesity," Dr. Lucas said.
The study was presented April 29 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The study is part of the Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy and Education Success (BELLE Project), which tracks babies from birth to first grade to research parenting and child development.
The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means other scientists have not had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards.