(NaturalNews) Mothers of fussy or active babies are significantly more likely to use television to distract their infants, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and published in the journal Pediatrics. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The study is one of the first to look at the interaction between maternal and infant risk factors that contribute to infant TV watching.
"In the past, studies have focused on maternal factors for obesity and TV watching, but this is the first time anyone has looked at infant factors and the interaction between maternal and infant characteristics in shaping TV behavior across infancy," researcher Amanda L. Thompson said. "And that's important, because mom and infant behaviors are inextricably linked."
The researchers followed 217 first-time, low-income black mothers and their infants. All participants resided in central North Carolina and were taking part in a five-year study about obesity risk in infants. The researchers evaluated the participants at home when the children were 3, 6, 9, 12 and 18 months old. Mothers were asked how often the TV was on in the house, whether the TV was on during meal times, whether there was a TV in the child's bedroom, and how they would rate their child in terms of activity level, fussiness and mood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not be exposed to TV or computer screens or similar media until at least age 2. Studies suggest that such exposure can hamper mental and social development.
TV dominates waking hours
The researchers found that by 12 months of age, almost 40 percent of children involved in the study were spending more than 3 hours in front of the TV each day, accounting for a third of their waking hours.
These findings may partially explain rising levels of childhood inactivity and obesity, the researchers noted. Prior studies have shown that television viewing in older children is associated with higher levels of obesity, even when it does not lead to reduced activity levels.
The researchers found that mothers who were obese or who watched lots of TV were the most likely to put their babies in front of the TV as well. Babies who were perceived as active and whose mothers did not have a high school diploma were the most likely to be fed in front of the television.
"Feeding infants in front of the TV can limit a mom's responsiveness in terms of examining infant cues, such as when an infant is telling mom he is no longer hungry," lead researcher Margaret E. Bentley said.
"This work has helped us design intervention strategies that will help teach moms how to soothe their babies, without overfeeding them or putting them in front of a TV."
Bentley is now planning to lead another study, also with NIH funding, to come up with home-based strategies to help parents promote healthy growth and development in their infants.