Although adults frequently worry about becoming overweight, body fat provides babies with important protection. Infants need extra fat stores until they are about 2 years old, according to the textbook "Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology," and much of this fat is stored in the legs and thighs. While parents may worry about their babies' fat legs, this fat is almost always a sign of good health. If you're concerned about your baby's weight gain, consult her pediatrician before making alterations to her diet.
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In the first year or two of life, the majority of a baby's nutrition comes from milk, which is high in fat. This fat protects your child from sudden illness; children with sufficient fat stores are less likely to fail to thrive or suffer from sudden infant death syndrome, according to the textbook "Child Psychology." As your child's diet changes and she begins walking, her legs will slowly begin to look less fat and more similar to an adult's legs. However, many children retain some baby fat into their teen years. Children should not be diagnosed as obese simply because they have fat legs. However, the fat on a child's legs can indicate whether a child's weight is evenly and healthily distributed, according to pediatrician William Sears in his book "The Portable Pediatrician."
When to Worry
If fat on your child's legs is not evenly distributed, it could signal a problem with her hips. Babies with dislocated or malformed hips frequently develop extra fat rolls on one leg, according to Sears. Solid fatty masses can be caused by cysts, so if you feel any masses underneath your child's baby fat, consult a pediatrician.
Some parents find that their child's fat can make bathing, dressing and other normal tasks difficult. Excess sweat between fat rolls can cause skin irritation such as heat rashes and yeast infections. Dry your baby's skin in between skin folds after bathing or changing her diaper. If your child's legs are large enough that they make it difficult for her to fit into diapers or clothes, buy items big enough to accommodate your child's legs, even if this means they are slightly large around the waist.
Babies should not be put on diets except in extreme cases. Proper nutrition in infancy can help your child remain healthy well into adulthood. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old. Breastfeeding reduces a child's lifetime risk of obesity. If you choose to give your child formula instead, follow her cues and avoid overfeeding, even if it means you throw some formula away. When your child begins eating solids, provide her with fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Avoid giving your child sugary juices and soda. Early exposure to sugar can cause your child to crave it, increasing her risk of becoming obese, according to "Child Psychology."
- Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology; Gerald Audesirk et al.
- Child Psychology; Robin Harwood, et al.
- The Portable Pediatrician; William Sears, M.D., et al.
- Health, Safety and Nutrition for the Young Child; Lynn Marotz
- Caring for Your Baby and Young Child; American Academy of Pediatrics