Are you worried about whether your breast or bottle fed baby is getting enough milk?
As a parent of a newborn your main job is to keep them fed and warm. The trouble is that your baby can’t tell you when they’re hungry or cold, or bored or tired, all they can do is cry.
So when it comes to figuring out if your baby can REALLY still be hungry after just feeding five minutes ago, or if they have actually drunk enough at this feed, you can be left guessing, and worrying.
When it comes to feeding your baby there is one thing that is vitally important to remember:
You need to step back and look at the bigger picture.
This may mean keeping a daily feeding and nappy diary over the course of an entire week.
It will definitely mean getting your baby weighed regularly if you are worried.
And it means you need to keep an eye on your baby’s overall temperament. Are they happy? Are they active? Are they alert when not snoozing?
It’s not so much about the individual feeds, because sometimes your baby will just snack and hardly seem to take much at all while others they may seem to gulp on and on forever.
When it comes to babies, it’s really about how much they eat over the course of an entire day, and the rest of the week.
Let’s take a much closer look at this and hopefully you’ll be armed with enough information to give you the peace of mind that your baby is feeding just fine.
Before I carry on, you may want to check out this post about breastfeeding for beginners if you’re looking for extra breastfeeding tips.
Feeding your baby in the early days
In the first few days of feeding your baby may be sleepy from the delivery, or they might be feeding round the clock. Every baby is different.
Some babies take to breastfeeding straight away, while for others getting the latch right might be a struggle.
In the early days, if you are concerned about whether your baby is getting enough milk you can express some of the milk into a small cup and either tip it into baby’s mouth or feed it to them in a syringe.
This may be encouraged if you prefer to breastfeed as it avoids the use of a bottle, which can cause nipple confusion in some babies.
I just want to pipe in and say that my second child took a bottle from day one and still happily breastfed with zero issues. She was happy as long as she got food. So don’t let this put you off from trying a bottle if you are worried about your baby getting enough.
Immediately after having your baby, your midwife or doctor will encourage you to start the first breastfeed.
It’s during the first few feeds that your baby will get your colostrum, which is a thicker breast milk packed with nutrients to help your baby adjust to the outside world.
Because colostrum is very thick and calorie heavy, it will take a few days for your boobs to feel like they are actually producing anything.
Your baby needs to be allowed to suckle whenever they want in the early days and first few weeks. They will feed little and often, because their tummies are so tiny.
If your baby is very sleepy, you may need to wake them up so that they are getting enough feeds in the day. Some midwives say to wake every three hours, even overnight. This is a judgement call. If you feel they are feeding enough during the day and evening, then you may feel that waking them up isn’t necessary. Always speak to your midwife or doctor if you are worried or unsure.
When your milk comes in, believe me you will know about it! Your boobs will be bigger, they may feel lumpy and a little tender, and they may be so full of milk they could leak. Such a magical time, right? Ha!
Anyway, in terms of feeding in the early days and weeks, here’s a handy guide to give you an idea of how often your baby should be feeding. Babies will need around 750ml of milk per day from age one month to six months. Some may take as much as 900ml a day and others may take less.
This is based on formula milk guidelines. When it comes to breastfeeding, we will talk more about that the next section.
- Newborn – two weeks: The first feeds will be only a few mls as colostrum is so rich. After this it will be between 60ml and 70ml per feed – possibly much less in the first week. Baby will feed frequently on demand.
- From two weeks to two months: Between 75ml and 105ml per feed.
- From two months to six months: Between 105ml and 250ml per feed.
Every single baby is different, so try to read your baby’s cues! More on those later.
Breastfeeding mothers have no idea how much their baby has taken in at each feed, so it can be a little confusing.
But the signs of a baby thriving on breast milk are the same as one thriving on formula milk, you just have to keep an eye out for those signs!
- Plenty of dirty and wet nappies.
- Weight gain.
- Happy and content after feeds.
Monitor your baby when they are feeding. Are they:
- Latching on well and swallowing milk as they feed.
- Feeding for longer than a few minutes.
- Feeding regularly throughout the day and night.
- Seeming satisfied after a feed.
If your baby is pulling off the breast a lot, crying after what seems to have been a long feed or feeding for just a couple of minutes before nodding off and dropping the nipple then these are signs they may not be getting enough.
In the first and second instance, you should check the latch is correct. If the latch is off then your baby won’t be feeding efficiently from the breast. See a breastfeeding expert, or check out some instructional videos on YouTube.
If your baby is feeding for just a few minutes, then nodding off and then waking up hungry again, you can try to keep them awake by tickling their feet, stripping off a layer of their clothing so they are cooler or taking them off the breast when they are about to nod off. Some babies will continue to feed in their sleep which is fine, as long as they don’t overfeed and vomit. Though this is rare.
It can be frustrating when you cannot physically see the amount of milk going into your baby, but we will talk about the signs you can look for when it comes to whether your baby is taking in enough milk.
Babies can seem like a bit of a mystery in the early days. But they have certain ways of letting you know what you want.
Sometimes you just need to sit back and observe and try to spot the patterns that emerge. Your baby will tend to start showing signs of hunger before they cry, so there is an escalation of their demand for food.
You’ll soon notice that your baby has a specific cry for hungry which sounds a bit like “laaaa”.
When your newborn baby is hungry they may also:
- Chew on their fist.
- Open and close their mouth.
- Root their head from side to side and towards your boob while you’re holding them.
- Pull at your top.
- Generally fidget and squirm around.
- Move their arms and legs in increasingly frantic and agitated way.
- And finally, cry so much they turn red.
In the newborn days you will be learning your baby’s hunger cues as well as how long it takes for them to be hungry again.
You’ll be feeding on demand in these early days so there is unlikely to be a firm pattern at the start, but you may see a pattern emerge as your baby gets to eight weeks to 12 weeks.
How to tell if your baby is swallowing milk
Ever spend ages staring at your baby feeding and wondering if they are actually getting anything?
This is mainly an issue with breastfeeding, as there is no gauge on the side of your boob showing how much has been drained from the tank.
However with breastfeeding, some babies will dribble some of their feed out of the sides of their mouth. This is usually a sign the flow on the bottle is too fast and can be solved with a different bottle teat that offers a slower flow.
A baby who is swallowing their feed will be making rhythmic movements with their chin. If you listen closely you should also be able to hear them swallowing the feed.
You may notice the gulp and swallow noises your baby makes are louder and more frequent at the start of a feed, and that they then slow down. This is normal as your baby’s thirst has been quenched.
If your baby makes a clicking sound as they breastfeed this is a sign that the latch is not quite right.
You can tell if your baby is swallowing enough milk by looking at these key indicators, which we will talk about in more detail next:
- Wet nappies.
- Dirty nappies.
- Weight gain.
- Baby is satisfied after a feed.
How to tell if you are producing enough breast milk
Some breastfeeding experts suggest doing a “yield” test. This is where you get a breast pump, then use it on both boobs for 15 minutes each side to see how much you get.
They say this is an indicator of what your boobs are producing for your baby.
This is not necessarily the case. Some people pump for hours without getting a drop or scarcely a spit of milk, whereas others pump enough to feed their baby and several others too!
Some boobs just don’t respond well to the pump for whatever reason. You can read more about exclusive pumping if you are interested in more information about breast pumps and pumping.
So, let’s ignore the yield test and just talk about what you can do to monitor your output.
The key indicators that your breasts are producing enough milk for your baby are:
Breasts feel “full” before feeding and softer after feeding (this will only happen after your milk has come in a few days after giving birth).
- Baby is gaining weight.
- Baby is happy and content after feeds.
- Baby is producing lots of dirty and wet nappies.
- Your nipple looks about the same after feeds – not flattened or pinched or white. This would indicate a bad latch.
- Breastfeeding does not hurt. If your latch is correct, then breastfeeding should not hurt after the first two or three weeks. Your nipples may be sore before this, as they are getting used to the abuse!
It’s worth noting that in the early weeks a baby may feed constantly. This is a natural instinct, both to suckle and feed, as well as to stimulate your breast milk supply.
Constant feeding is not necessarily a sign of low breast milk supply.
If your baby is gaining weight, producing dirty and wet nappies and otherwise well in themselves, then you don’t need to worry about your supply.
How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk
We’ve already touched on a few signs that your baby is thriving and getting a decent amount of milk, but we will expand on those here.
Signs your baby is getting enough milk:
- Wet nappies. In the first few days your baby will have two to three wet nappies a day. This will increase to around five or six wet nappies a day after just a few days.
- Dirty nappies. A breastfed baby will produce around two dirty nappies per day – they will be yellow, soft and around the size of a £2 coin. Breastfed baby poo may look like it contains seeds, this isn’t anything to worry about. A formula fed baby may produce up to five dirty nappies a day. They will be firmer and smellier. Once your baby reaches around eight weeks old, they may only poo once a week if breastfed and once a day if formula fed.
- Baby is content after feeding. Once your baby has fed they are not agitated. Remember to burp them as this can be a common reason for them to be fussy after feeding.
- Your baby is feeding eight to 12 times a day. In the early days your baby will be feeding little and often. Once they reach a few weeks old you may notice the feeds drop to around six in a 24-hour period.
- Baby is alert. Your baby is alert during their awake times, making eye contact, wriggling and otherwise happy.
- Baby looks a healthy colour. Your baby’s skin should be pink, not yellow.
Signs your baby is not getting enough milk
- Very unsettled after feeding.
- Wee is a dark colour and/or smelly.
- Hardly any poos and when they do poo it is not runny and not yellow in colour (breastfed babies).
- Jaundice. If your baby has yellow eyes or skin this should be looked at by a doctor straight away.
- Sleepy. Your baby may need waking for feeds and is very lethargic.
- Lack of interest and movement. Your baby has no interest in looking around the room when awake and is not kicking their arms or legs around.
If your baby is showing any of these signs and you are worried, please see a doctor ASAP.
How do you know when baby is done feeding
When a baby has finished feeding they will let go of the breast or bottle and appear content after being burped.
A proper breastfeed may last around 10 to 15 minutes. But if your baby is going through a growth spurt they may feed for hours on and off at a time. This is called cluster feeding, usually happens in the evening and it’s totally normal. Tiring, but normal.
Some babies are easily distracted during breast or bottle feeding. This is especially difficult in the daytime, when there may be lots going on and things to stare out.
Your baby may quench their thirst for a couple of minutes and then get distracted and as a result, will be hungry again in a few minutes’ time.
How you handle this is really up to you. Some babies, and their parents, may prefer to be more snacky in the first few weeks. This means they will feed a little bit, and often.
In the early weeks, no baby works to a timetable so you need to go with the flow and succumb to your baby’s regular demands for food. If your baby seems hungry just an hour after you last fed them, chances are they are hungry again!
A pattern will emerge eventually and you will find it easier to distinguish your baby’s hunger cues.
If you are worried your baby’s feeds are too short you can try the following:
Keep a diary of how often and for how long they feed. You may see a pattern emerge showing they are snacking rather than filling up with a full meal. If you want to lengthen their feeds, then try to feed them in a quiet room where there are no distractions.
Keep them awake until they are full. Tickle and poke them if you have to.
After six weeks try timing their feeds so that they are roughly two hours apart. This way your baby will be truly hungry when they come to feed and so take a full feed.
I hope these tips were useful! Please ask if you have any questions at all!