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Young infants who suck at their bottle more vigorously than their peers are more likely to gain weight by age 12 months. This is the conclusion of a study from the US, which used special smart bottles to categorise four-month-old babies into one of three “sucking” styles. The finding could provide a new means to identity infants at risk of future obesity, and improve health outcomes.

The research was undertaken by developmental and behavioural paediatrician Dr Julie Lumeng of the University of Michigan and her colleagues.

She said: “Being able to identify risk factors for obesity at a very early age could mean better health outcomes for the baby as they grow up.

“A baby’s bottle sucking style could be valuable in a number of applications from obesity prediction to alignment with parent reported feeding behaviours, also presented in our study.

“The research also provides a route for future work seeking to understand the biological or environmental predictors of these profiles to determine the timeline on which they develop.”

In their study, the team recruited 114 pairs of mothers and their four-month-old children and gave each of them a special “smart bottle” to use.

These devices are capable of measuring different parameters of an infant’s sucking style — such as the frequency of sucking, and the smoothness.

The babies were weighed during the initial evaluation of sucking style— and then again at age 12 months.

The mothers also completed questionnaires about their child’s feeding habits at both weigh-ins.

Based on the data collected by the smart bottles, the team identified three sucking profiles — “vigorous” (51 percent of the babies), “capable” (28 percent) and “leisurely” (21 percent).

The team found that infants with a “vigorous” sucking profile gained significantly more weight during the study period than those with a “leisurely” approach to bottle feeding.

As the team wrote in their paper: “Infant sucking characteristics may aid in predicting which infants may be at greater risk of obesity.

“And, therefore, sucking profiles deserve more investigation.”

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The study’s lead author was paediatrician Professor Keith Feldman of Children’s Mercy Kansas City, a paediatric medical centre based in Missouri.

He said: “This study offers exciting evidence that measurements of infant sucking are not only potentially useful in predicting downstream outcomes.

“It also highlights the value in considering sucking, not as a series of independent factors, but as a comprehensive profile of a baby’s feeding style.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Appetite.

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