Last updated January 7th, 2021
Physicians all agree that nothing beats breastmilk when it comes to infant nutrition. That’s why more moms nowadays choose to breastfeed their children. However, if you’re a new mom, you might be asking yourself, “am I overfeeding my breastfed newborn?”
It’s a common curiosity among first-time breastfeeding moms. After all, you can’t really see the contents of your breast, now, can you? But the good news is that the answer to the question is a flat-out no. You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby.
It might seem wild how it is impossible to overfeed a breastfed newborn. If you want to find out more about why read on.
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How Much Breastmilk Should a Newborn Get?
Newborn babies weigh an average of 6 to 9 pounds at birth. The varying birth weight also means that there will be somewhat varying amounts of milk required for a baby. The average falls around 14 to 22 ounces per 24-hour period.
The Newborn Stomach Size
At birth, your newborn’s stomach is about the size of a cherry. She may only take about a teaspoon of milk per feeding. On the second day, her stomach will be about the size of a walnut and will be able to hold up to an ounce of milk per feed.
At one week, her stomach will be about the size of an apricot and will have the capacity of up to 2 ounces. Finally, as your little one exits the newborn age at one month, her stomach will be about the size of a large egg and capable of holding up to 5 ounces of milk.
As you can see above, your newborn’s tummy is quite small. It has limited capacity. As adults, we are used to gulping down food and drink to our liking, so it can be hard to tell whether you’re overfeeding your newborn if you don’t know about the figures mentioned above.
This is especially true if you are bottle-feeding your newborn without proper documentation or measurements during feeding. However, with breastfeeding, this does not happen. But, why? You may ask.
What are the Signs of Overfeeding?
You can gauge for any possibility of overfeeding through the following signs:
- Burping or farting frequently
- Lots of spit-ups
- More wet nappies than usual
- Loose stools
- Fussing, irritability, or crying after feeding
- Vomiting after feeding
- Gagging or choking
- Rapid and abnormal weight gain
To learn more in-depth information about overfeeding, read How Do You Know If You Are Overfeeding Your Baby.
Why It’s Impossible to Overfeed a Breastfed Newborn
There are several facts that support why it is not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby. Below are some of the best reasons why:
Suckling is hard work
When your baby breastfeeds, the suckling action is very different from bottle-feeding. In fact, this study shows that there is superior facial muscle activity in breastfeeding compared to bottle feeding.
In short, you baby is working harder at the breast to get milk out compared to the bottle. So, why would they continue all that effort if they’re not even hungry any more?
Babies generally stop suckling when they are not hungry or not interested anymore in the breast because of this.
The breast does not function like a bottle
It’s not just the baby’s suckling that is different in breastfeeding. The way the breast delivers milk is also different from the bottle.
When a bottle is tilted down, you may notice droplets freely dripping out at a rate that may depend on the size of the nipple opening. This means that your baby does not need much effort to get milk, and even if she stops sucking, she’s still taking in milk as long as the bottle is tilted.
With the breast, the baby hast to actually “pull” the milk out to let it flow or letdown. At some point, the milk slows and the flow halts, which is the time a baby will have to stimulate the letdown reflex again through a special suckling mechanism.
If your baby is no longer hungry at the breast, she can easily opt not to suckle fast enough to stimulate letdown. Newborns are actually very intuitive when it comes to this.
Babies don’t just breastfeed for hunger
There are a million reasons why breastfeeding babies seek the breast. It’s not just hunger. They breastfeed when they’re sick, scared, sleepy, cranky, tired, overexcited, or even when they’re just bored.
As mentioned above, they can easily stay at the breast without necessarily drinking from it as long as there is no letdown stimulation. This is normally evident when a baby falls asleep at the breast. You’ll notice a series of short but shallow sucks that don’t really pull any milk out.
Breastfed babies growth slows down after about 3 months
On average, a breastfed baby’s weight gain slows down at some point after three months of age when compared to formula fed babies. This has been the average across all breastfed babies, most of whom do not have rigid feeding schedules.
If this is the average, it, therefore, solidifies the statement that you can not overfeed a breastfed baby. An overfed baby will show signs of increased and rapid weight gain, not a decrease in weight gain.
Newborn Feeding Signs
Overfeeding can cause serious long-term and short-term health impacts on your little one. That is why, even if it is not likely that you will overfeed your breastfed newborn, it is still important to know feeding sues or signs just in case.
Signs of Hunger
Most new mothers may expect that a baby is only hungry when she cries. As a matter of fact, babies show other signs of hunger. They tend to show these signs before crying which is a late sign. Here’s what you can look out for:
- Hand to mouth. Babies are usually not yet well-coordinated, but when they begin to feel hunger, they usually bring their fists to their mouths and begin sucking on it.
- Rooting. If you carry your baby in a cradle hold, she may start turning her head towards you, trying to feel for the breast.
- Heightened activity. Hungry newborn babies are awake, alert, and active. They may kick their legs and make little punches with their arms.
- Mouth movements. Another thing that a newborn does to signify hunger is opening and closing the mouth repeatedly. She may also smack her lips or suck at anything that touches her mouth.
- Crying. As mentioned above, this is a late sign of hunger. In fact, it is a sign of distress. It means that your baby is already very very hungry and feels the need to complain (loudly!).
Catching the early signs of hunger will eliminate the need for your baby to cry. This is especially useful in the newborn stage because your baby is still learning how to latch properly. It can be difficult to try and latch if she is already crying and in distress.
Signs of Fullness
So how do you know if your baby has breastfed enough? IT is important to let your baby take the lead on this one. They will usually suckle until they are full and let you know through these signs:
- Release. Your baby will naturally unlatch from the nipple once she has had her fill. This is a natural reflex that newborns have. It is not necessary to time your feeding sessions or limit the amount of time your baby spends on the breast. In fact, it can be harmful if you do so. Limiting your baby’s time at the breast can cause inadequate milk intake, affect your milk supply, and cause clogged milk ducts because the breast has not been properly emptied.
- Reject. Another sign that your baby is full is if she begins to reject or turn away from the breast if you are offering it. You will notice this action when sometimes when you attempt to “switch sides” and your baby is no longer interested. That means that she has already had her fill.
- Relax. When your hungry baby first latches, try to notice how her body is all tensed up: her head will tilt forward towards the breast, the body will be tight and engaged, and her fists will be firmly closed. As her belly fills, her body will ease up, and you’ll see that her hands are open.
If you’ve ever found yourself doubting whether you are overfeeding your breastfed newborn, you are not alone. As a new mother, I also had the very same question when my firstborn would sometimes stay at the breast the entire day as a newborn.
However, after having read this article, I hope you are now more at ease and confident with breastfeeding freely. What other breastfeeding hurdles do you want us to tackle next? Let us know in the comments below.