Some moms fear that they can overfeed a breastfeeding baby while so many others worry that their babies are not getting enough. How can new moms be sure?
Can You Feed a Baby Too Much?
So many new mothers worry that they aren’t producing enough breast milk to satisfy their babies, but it also goes the other way around. How do you know if you’re producing so much milk your baby is actually receiving too much? Even if you haven’t thought much about that, it’s worth taking a minute to learn how much milk your baby needs and what might happen if your little champ goes overboard in the feeding department.
Shattering Breastfeeding Myths About Feeding Cycles
If we’re talking about formula delivered from a bottle, it’s easy to see how overfeeding is a real concern. Babies feed from bottles at a much faster rate than they feed from breast nipples. There’s often less cuddling and bonding when babies feed from a bottle, especially if the bottle is propped up while the baby feeds away from the mother.
Can a Baby Have Too Much Breast Milk?
Breastfed babies must remain close to their mothers to feed directly, so they spend more time extracting milk from the breast and cuddling for comfort and emotional purposes. A breastfed baby’s stomach may fill up at a slower rate than a bottle-fed baby’s stomach, and they may continue feeding past the point of feeling physically satisfied because the breast is such a warm, loving place to rest.
Does that mean it’s possible to provide too much milk for your baby while breastfeeding? It may seem like it, but many experts say no. Let’s briefly go over some of the breastfeeding myths new mothers often hear and discuss why they’re nothing for most mothers to worry about.
Top 5 Myths about Overfeeding
1. If a breastfeeding baby wants to feed all the time, they’re eating too much and may become overweight.
In reality, babies may feed too often when they aren’t receiving an adequate amount of milk during those feedings. They continue to try feeding at frequent intervals in an attempt to get the milk they need to feel satisfied and thrive. Overfeeding isn’t a concern because the amount of milk delivered during each feeding is inadequate.
In this situation, babies may exhibit other signs of distress like excessive crying and fussiness between and during feedings. They may also release their latch on the nipple repeatedly during feeding or show other signs of struggling to express milk while feeding. Mothers can work to increase their breast milk production to fix the problem.
Working with a lactation consultant or doctor may be necessary if your breasts become engorged and there are signs the milk isn’t flowing out properly. There are some infections and other problems that are fixable, so it’s possible that your baby will be able to continue breastfeeding successfully once the issues are addressed properly.
Newborn babies can feed eight times or more in a 24-hour period. There will be days your baby wants to feed more often, and feeding times are likely to change as your baby grows. When new mothers worry that their baby is feeding too often, they often just don’t understand that the frequency of feeding is often higher for breastfed babies than bottle-fed babies receiving formula.
Breast milk is processed faster and contains valuable properties that formula cannot mimic, so your baby may take to the breast more often than a baby receiving formula. If your little one wants to feed every two or three hours as a newborn, it’s natural and healthy. If there are no signs that your baby is struggling to remain latched or receive the nutrients he needs, then allowing frequent feedings is simply a matter of providing for your baby.
2. You shouldn’t allow your baby to breastfeed for comfort because it will make him overweight and will spoil him.
It’s true that breastfed babies may feed for comfort and warmth, but most babies won’t do that to the extent of gaining a lot of excess weight. If they remain on the nipple after a needed feeding, both breasts will eventually empty and stop the intake of milk. Most babies will also fall sleep at the breast long before they take in enough excess milk to cause significant abnormal weight gain.
Bonding with your baby during breastfeeding is normal. It’s a precious experience that your baby needs to feel safe, secure and supported in the world. As long as you don’t notice clear signs that your baby is taking in too much milk, enjoy those moments of bonding and comfort while your baby is little. We’ll go over those signs in just a moment.
3. It’s important to stick to a strict schedule and regulate breastfeeding so your baby doesn’t become dependent on the breast or overweight.
Allowing your baby to dictate the breastfeeding schedule is completely natural. Many mothers also find it the easiest routine to maintain because they don’t have to watch the clock or worry about waking a baby up to get a feeding in at a set time. Your baby naturally knows when she needs to feed and how much milk she needs to consume, and there is nothing wrong with allowing her to take the lead.
On-demand breastfeeding won’t leave your baby dependent on your breast. Your little one will naturally graduate to solid foods, juice and other tasty delights beyond the breast. While she may cling to breastfeeding as long as possible, there will come a time she feels confident enough to feed herself from other nutritious goodies.
Whether you stick to a breastfeeding schedule in the meantime should depend on what works for your lifestyle and your baby’s personality. Your little one depends on your breast for nourishment right now, and that’s a beautiful thing.
4. Chubby breastfed babies are more likely to become obese as adults.
Don’t feed your baby with the mindset of avoiding long-term obesity or struggles with weight. There’s no scientific evidence that larger babies become larger adults. In fact, many of the chubbiest babies lose their rolls and become quite thin later in childhood or in their teenage and young adult years. It’s more likely that your baby needs that extra fat to grow and develop internally in the first year or two of life, so appreciate that adorable chub while it’s there.
5. If you produce too much breast milk, your baby will become overweight.
An overflow of breast milk can make it more difficult for some babies to feed because the milk comes out faster. You will know if your milk is too abundant if you’re routinely left with a lot of milk in your breasts at the end of feedings or if your baby seems unable to comfortably breastfeed because there is so much milk coming out.
If you’re one of the few who produce so much milk it interferes with breastfeeding, try pumping that milk at the end of each feeding and between feedings if needed. Create a healthy freezer stash and consider donating your milk to babies who have much less available. What you should not do is worry that your overflow will cause unhealthy weight gain for your baby.
Breastfed Babies and Weight Gain
Is it possible for breastfed babies to be overweight? Breast milk is the most perfectly balanced food available anywhere. It changes composition over time, allowing your baby to have well-balanced nutrition at all stages of growth throughout the first year or two of life. That customized nutrition can lead some babies to look like fluffy butterballs, but it doesn’t mean they’re overweight or unhealthy in any way.
It’s true that some breastfed babies are larger than others, but most will start slimming down as they become more mobile. A newborn struggles just to raise his head from the floor unassisted, but it isn’t long before that baby is rolling or crawling so fast parents and grandparents struggle to keep up. That’s when many babies start burning more calories and burning more of the stored fat that made them so cute as a small baby.
If you want to increase your baby’s chance of maintaining a healthy weight and growing up healthy, follow these guidelines for healthy weight gain in breastfed babies:
- Breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of life. That means delaying solid foods, juice and water so that your baby receives nothing but your nourishing breast milk.
- Add solid foods into your baby’s diet slowly. You can continue breastfeeding for the first year or tow of your baby’s life while allowing him to have healthy baby foods after the age of six months. You don’t have to go directly into a full diet of solid foods. Take time and allow your baby to adjust slowly.
- Keep your baby’s foods natural and healthy with as little processing as possible. Stay away from sugar and foods that have little to no nutritional value. Wholesome foods like fruits and vegetables will nourish your baby without causing unhealthy weight gain or a strong preference for junk food.
- Encourage movement for your baby. Whether she can only have tummy time and work at raising her head or she’s a crawler learning to pull up to a standing position, appreciate that moving is healthy and will help your baby maintain a healthy weight. Once she can run and play, you can help her by maintaining an active lifestyle for every member of the family.
How Can You Tell if Your Baby is Overfed?
There are rare circumstances where breastfed babies can gain weight too rapidly, and it can impact their health. If you take your baby to the doctor for routine checkups, you will know in advance if your baby is one of those rare exceptions. Your doctor will check your baby’s weight gain on the charts and let you know where she falls in comparison to other babies. If you can find a doctor who uses a chart based on breastfed babies, all the better.
Even if your baby is at the top of the charts or a little abnormal compared to other babies at times, it’s not likely that it will impact her health. You can embrace a healthy lifestyle in your home and watch as your little one thins out while becoming more active over time.
Signs That You are Overfeeding a Breastfeeding Baby
If your baby is one of the few that become overfed, you may notice the following signs and can see your doctor or pediatrician to address the issue quickly:
- Your baby’s wet and dirty diapers are more than average each day. Your baby may produce more than eight wet or dirty diapers if she’s receiving too much breast milk.
- Your baby’s dirty diapers are runny, loose and have a strong odor.
- Your baby regurgitates milk regularly during and after feedings. There are other issues that may cause this, so don’t assume overfeeding before speaking with your doctor.
- You notice your baby has a lot of gas. It can come out either end or both and seems connected to breastfeeding.
- Your baby is irritable and doesn’t seem to sleep or rest well.
There are medical issues that may cause all of those symptoms, so don’t automatically assume you’re overfeeding your baby if you notice some of them. The biggest concern is when an otherwise happy, healthy and content baby suddenly develops one or more of those signs. Always talk to your doctor if you notice sudden changes in your baby’s patterns, temperament or behaviors.
So What’s The Bottom Line on Overfeeding?
Now you know how unlikely it is to overfeed a breastfed baby and can relax while enjoying the breastfeeding experience more. What will happen if your baby is overfed and you don’t realize it? Your baby will start to pick up weight at an abnormal weight on the charts, and your doctor will let you know. You can discuss what may be causing the weight gain and make a plan to overcome the obstacle at that time.
Even if your baby is higher on the weight charts than your doctor would like, remember that it’s likely to change as your baby becomes more active. Your little one may go through growth spurts where he puts on more weight because he needs it to grow healthfully. Keep breastfeeding your baby as needed, and you will need to go to the next size in clothing and diapers before you know it.
- Best Bottles for Breastfeeding Babies
- Is My Breastfed Baby Getting Enough?
- Average Baby Weight Gain Per Week for a Breastfeeding Baby
- Your Breastfeeding Questions Answered, NHS.uk, Accessed Jan, 17, 2020. Link.
- Parental control over feeding in infancy. Influence of infant weight, appetite and feeding method, NIH, Accessed January 22, 2020. Link.
- Recommendations and Benefits, CDC. Accessed Jan. 20. 2020. Link.
- Overfeeding a Baby, Health Link BC. Accessed Jan. 20, 2020. Link.