It's Mean to Call Your Baby Chubby

Let the baby's thighs shine!Whenever a news story refers to an alleged trend but doesn’t say how widespread it is, I get suspicious. And when I scratch the surface, I often find that an attention-grabbing headline can’t deliver on its promise. So no, I don’t believe that there’s a widespread trend to restrict babies’ calorie intake so that chubby babies won’t grow up to be obese adults.

I think most of us are smart enough to know that it’s critical for babies to have tons of fat and calories, not to mention extra padding, because they grow so fast.

But I do admit there is an emotional disconnect when it comes to praising chubby babies, and that worries me.


I’ve struggled with food issues all my life, and my mom freely admits that she does, too. She was put on diet pills at age 11 or 12 to get rid of any baby fat. “We all were,” she told me. “It was just what our parents were told to do.” Thank goodness, by the time she became a mom, she knew better than to listen to anyone but her own instincts, which told her to breastfeed us and say “no” when she was offered thalidomide. But she still has trouble with nattering voices in her head telling her every bite will land her in the plus-sized section of the department store -- and when those voices leak out in my presence, she apologizes.

Still, she did ask my sister if it wouldn’t be better if she found some kind of skim-milk-based formula when she had to supplement her breastfeeding. When my sister told her there’s no such thing and pointed out that breast milk is sugary and fatty, she was sort of aghast, and couldn’t quite believe it.

My mom is a bit of an extreme example, but I understand emotionally where she’s coming from. We spend our entire adult lives looking critically at ourselves, worrying about those extra 10 pounds (or 20, or 30 ...). Many of us spend years either eating a restricted diet, or re-learning how to eat. I mean, there is an obesity epidemic. So “you’re so fat!” is not, in general, a kind thing to say.

Yet when a baby shows up, it’s the first thing we notice. “Ooh, look at those chubby legs, I want to bite them!”

Is it mean to call a baby fat? No. Does it feel mean, almost like using a dirty word? Yes. Witness my stepkids, who carefully and considerately exclaim, “She’s so chubby -- in a good way!” about both Penny and Abby. Remember, we were ecstatic when Penny gained weight -- she was only 3 pounds 7 ounces at birth. Yet these kids are socially conditioned to add that little extra reassurance, that it’s okay to be chubby, but only when you’re a baby.

And then -- at what point do you change your tune? A friend of mine, who had struggled with bulimia for 10 years, became enraged when she heard another mom say to her daughter, “I can’t pick you up because you’re getting so fat.” The child was a sturdy little toddler, and was probably getting heavier because she was growing healthily -- but the mom called her “fat,” and my friend kinda went off on her. (Heh heh. That’s why she’s my friend.)

The answer, of course, is that it’s never okay to call your kid fat, even if he or she is actually overweight. There are gentler ways to attack a problem like that. Bottom line: babies are exempt from these kinds of concerns -- and maybe we should exempt ourselves, too. Or at least not judge ourselves as harshly. Maybe we don’t want toddler-style chubby thighs. But a little baby-face? That just makes us less wrinkled and more youthful.

Do you feel a weird disconnect when you praise your baby’s chubbiness?

Image via haute negro/Flickr

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