Can You Overfeed a Breastfeeding Baby? How to Read the Signs

Breastfeeding can appear effortless, but that is usually not the case. If you have experienced those early days of breastfeeding a newborn then you know that it comes with many challenges and even more questions. Is my baby getting enough? Am I producing enough milk? Do I need to give my baby need a bottle? Is my baby getting too much milk? Am I overfeeding my breastfeeding baby? How do I know if my baby is hungry?

Hopefully, this article will offer you some peace of mind on your breastfeeding journey. I have identical twins that I am exclusively breastfeeding, but that is definitely not how our journey started. I struggled for quite some time to get into a feeding schedule, recognize my baby’s hunger cues and heal my sore nipples.

People told me it would get better and thankfully it does get better. But, in those hard moments, I also needed to hear the empathetic words, “What you are doing is hard and amazing.” If you are in the trenches right now, or anticipating the arrival of your little one, just know that breastfeeding is a journey. It changes over time so give yourself all the grace to learn your body and allow your baby to get to know you.

mother breastfeeding a baby

Can you overfeed a breastfeeding baby?

People will say different things out there. Some say you can’t overfeed a breastfeeding baby, others say you can. It is my experience that it is very hard to overfeed a breastfeeding baby, but it can happen.

In this article, I’ll share with you how you can read the signs and cues of your breastfeeding baby, what the signs of overfeeding are, and how to avoid it as well as some other information about breastfeeding.

How often does a baby eat?

In the early weeks, your newborn baby will eat about 8-12 times a day. Some of the best advice I got as a new mother was to offer the breast to my babies as often as they wanted it. Watch their cues, not the clock. It is recommended to feed on demand, meaning your baby dictates when they eat. They may eat between every 1-3 hours, each baby varies.

How do I know I am producing enough milk for my baby?

I remember asking myself this question often, especially when breastfeeding twins. Milk production is supply and demand. So the more your baby eats, the more your body will produce.

Don’t overthink this, if your baby eats and then plays or sleeps after and eats again in 1-3 hours they are probably getting enough milk from you. There may be times when they feed more frequently, like during growth spurts. These frequent feedings are known as “cluster feeding”. Cluster feeding often happens in the evening, but I also noticed this happening in the mornings with my twins. They would eat every hour for a few hours. If your baby is still showing signs of hunger you could offer your baby the second breast, this may be another way to boost your milk supply.

Drink lots of water and give yourself the best nutrition possible by eating a balanced diet. Remember you are eating for yourself and also producing milk for your baby! You will want to eat 350-400 extra calories a day while breastfeeding.

Swallowing, Wet Diapers and Weight Gain

The best way to know if your baby is getting enough milk is by looking and listening for swallowing. You will hear the swallow and see your baby’s jaw moving. There is generally at least about 10 minutes of active sucking at each breast during a breastfeeding session.

Another way to know if your baby is getting enough milk is by how many wet diapers they are having in a day. In the first week of life, they say having as many wet diapers as days old is a good rule of thumb. After the first week, your baby should have 6-8 wet diapers and not more than 8 hours between wet diapers. If your baby is having at least 6 wet diapers a day in the early weeks that is a sign that your baby is well hydrated.

Another way to know if you are producing enough milk for your baby is by weight gain. In the first few months a baby gains about 1ounce a day (28g). This rate will slow down around 4 months and then slow down even more when they are about 6 months old. For more information on growth in the first year see this information from the Mayo Clinic.

If you want to be to do weight checks at home you can get this baby scale.

Why is my baby spitting up after breastfeeding?

Many babies spit up after feedings. It doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is being overfed. Simple changes in positions can cause your baby’s esophageal sphincter (the flap that closes the stomach) to open. This is the pathway from the stomach to the throat. In babies, this muscle of their digestive system is sensitive which can cause your baby to spit up easily.

If you have a strong let down this may give your baby a strong flow of milk which may result in your newborn baby’s stomach filling up too quickly. This could be another cause of your baby spitting up. One thing you could try would be to pump to get your initial letdown released and then latch your baby after. Over time your baby will learn how to manage your letdown.

I found that regular chiropractic adjustments helped our boys limit the amount and frequency of spit-up among other things!

In this article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, they list tips to reduce your baby’s spit-up as well as explain possible causes of why your baby may be spitting up.

How do I know if my baby is hungry?

As a newborn, you will be the one to meet your baby’s needs. Here are some early feeding cues your baby may be showing you:

  • Rooting – head turning to the side looking for the breast
  • Sucking on hands
  • Opening and closing of the baby’s mouth
  • Clenched fists and rigid body
Mother breastfeeding a baby

If my baby isn’t chunky does that mean I am not producing enough milk?

Neither of my twins was super chunky. A baby does not need to be chunky to be considered healthy And having a chunky baby doesn’t mean that your breastfeeding baby is overfed. Healthcare providers will show you growth charts for your baby to show you how their growth is progressing. These charts will help you know if your baby’s growth is in the normal range.

What if I am producing more milk than my baby needs?

I found that when I was breastfeeding and using a Haaka (milk collector), my milk supply became greater than what my babies needed. Over time this caused discomfort in my breasts. I stopped using the Haaka and transitioned to exclusive breastfeeding; this helped my body to produce the right amount of milk. However, if you are wanting to build up a freezer stash of breast milk, doing some pumping or using a Haaka may help build that extra supply.

If you have an abundant supply you could also consider donating your milk to other mothers.

What if I can’t breastfeed?

There are many different reasons why breastfeeding may not be possible for some women. In these cases, know that infant formula is produced to provide your baby with the nutrients that they need.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests responsive feeding. Responsive feeding is when the adult or caregiver is responding to the baby’s cues of hunger and fullness. You can follow these practices whether you have a breastfeeding or bottle-fed baby.

What if I am having difficulties breastfeeding my baby?

Breastfeeding can be challenging. I found it incredibly helpful to see a lactation consultant. She was able to guide me on how to improve their latch and recommend different products to make it more comfortable in the beginning days. Don’t hesitate to seek out medical advice and find a good support system while you are on your feeding journey.

If you are struggling with a low milk supply, there are many things you can do to boost your supply! Skin-to-skin contact is a great way to boost your supply in those early days. Drinking enough water each day is crucial to sustaining a good milk supply.

Benefits of Breast feeding

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby. Breastfeeding provides your baby with antibodies to help them develop a robust immune system.

There are links between breastfeeding and how it can prevent childhood obesity. In this article by Harvard Health, the author speaks about this. One reason that breastfeeding can help prevent obesity is that breastfed babies learn how to stop feeding when they are full. It is more likely that a bottle-fed baby will be overfed due to the fast pace of the bottle nipple.

Breastfeeding provides an important connection and bonding experience between mother and baby.

Mother breastfeeding her baby

Frequently Asked Questions

Will breastfed babies stop eating when full?

Yes. Your baby may unlatch, turn away from the breast or switch their sucking from active sucking to comfort nursing. While comfort nursing they will still get some milk, but not nearly as much.

How do I know if my baby overfed breastfeeding?

If your baby is vomiting, refusing milk, having rapid weight gain, and overall discontent after feeding they may be being overfed.

What happens if my baby breastfeeds too much?

Watch your baby’s feeding cues and follow responsive feeding practices. If your baby isn’t showing signs of being overfed then they probably know what they need and are feeding frequently. Sometimes what we think is too much is what the baby need. I remember when my baby latched 16 times one day.

How long should I breastfeed?

The World Health Organization recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life and then combined with solid food until 2 years of age. Your baby should continue to receive either breast milk or formula for at least the first year of life.

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