Can You Overfeed a Breastfed Baby?

Article updated: 20 March, 2019

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"My friend says that I'm over-feeding my newborn baby because babies should only have to nurse every 3 hours..."

"I think my baby is spitting up this much because I'm over-breastfeeding him..."

"My baby keeps wanting to breastfeed, am I breastfeeding too much?"

These are the common concerns and insecurities of breastfeeding mothers. Many mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding worry that their babies are plumper than most. 

Can a baby drink too much breast milk? The answer is no, not if your baby is receiving milk via the breast. If you are bottle feeding, yes you can overfeed your baby on breast milk. (read more below)

Unlimited access to the breast is recommended. Doing this will ensure that you are producing just the right amount of milk for your baby. So, follow your baby's lead!


Why You Cannot Overfeed a Breastfed Baby

1. Regular feeding is a natural behavior. Mothers need to be aware of the fact that breastfeeding is not just about nourishment, it is also about bonding, warmth, comfort, affection...breastfeeding has been proven to decrease anxiety and pain too.  Baby needs Mom's closeness just as much, or even more than the milk sometimes. 

2. The weight of a baby is primarily determined by genetics. If you or your husband were fat babies, chances are your babies will be too.

3. Breastfeeding protects your baby against adult obesity. A big breastfed baby will not necessarily become an obese adult, in fact, research claims that a breastfed baby is less likely to become obese later on in life. (2)

4. When babies become mobile from 4-6 months onward, they start to stretch out and lose some of the "baby weight." The fat gained during infancy will be used during the active toddler period. 

5. Limiting your baby’s feeds will restrict growth and brain development.

6. It takes more effort for a baby to breastfeed than to bottle-feed. 


How Often Should I Breastfeed?

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Your milk is produced on a supply and demand principal. The more your baby drinks, the more milk will be produced. It is best to watch your baby for hunger signals and not the clock. There is no need to time your baby at the breast; allow them to stay on one breast for as long as he/she seems interested. After this, you can burp your baby and try offering the other breast. If your baby doesn't take the second breast during that feeding session, it's okay! Your body will regulate how much milk you need to produce. During the next feeding, you can start your breastfeeding session with the full breast, the breast that was least emptied previously. 

Together, you and your baby will work something out, but on average your baby should breastfeed eight times every 24 hours during the first couple of weeks. Breastfed babies need to breastfeed often because: 

  • They have a teeny tiny tummy.
  • Breastmilk is so easily digested. There are no empty calories in breastmilk; it is the perfect food. 

You can breastfeed your baby for as long, and as often as your baby wants, your baby will not become spoiled, but instead, he/she is reassured - with the knowledge that you are always there for them. Breastfeeding on demand is recommended. Also known as "responsive feeding," "baby-led," or "cue feeding."

After a few weeks, a baby will have acquired the skill of breastfeeding and will nurse more aggressively, which means more extended periods between feedings.


How Long Should Each Breastfeeding Session Last?

The average feeding session lasts 10 - 40 minutes, but there is no specific time a baby has to spend at the breast because all babies are different. Some babies prefer to breastfeed for only a few minutes while others will breastfeed for almost an hour at a time and longer if they love to comfort feed.

If your baby seems to be constantly breastfeeding, you should contact your midwife. Getting hold of your local la leche league would be a good idea too, their services are free.


Can You Overfeed Your Baby on Expressed Breastmilk or Formula?

Yes, here is why...

When a baby drinks from a bottle, the milk flows easily and continuously. During breastfeeding, on the other hand, your baby has to use 40 facial muscles to get the milk to flow, and your milk has times when it flows slower, so its not a constant fast flow like an artificial nipple. This will cause your baby to receive more milk than needed before they even realize that their tummy is full. Also, parents are likely to empty the bottle of milk whereas if the baby were in control at the breast, he/she would stop when satiated. (1)

For mothers who have to feed via the bottle, paced feeding is recommended to prevent overfeeding. 


Normal Weight Gain

Giving your baby any foods or drink before six months is unnecessary and can cause excessive weight gain.

Breastfeeding baby weight gains that are normal during the first year:

  • 4-7 ounces (between 112-200g) per week for the first month. 
  • 1-2 pounds (1/2 to 1kg) per month for the first six months. 
  • 1 pound (1/2 kg) per month from six months to a year. 

It is essential that mothers are aware that there are growth charts that are specifically made for breastfed babies


Preventing Obesity

  • Breastfeed for as long as you can. It is recommended to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, and then continue solids while breastfeeding for another six months.
  • After six months, you should offer the breast first and then the solids. This is so that your baby gets most of his/her calories and vitamins from the best source first.
  • Never force your child to eat. Let your little one eat when he/she is hungry. 
  • Allow your little one to play and move around as much as possible.


The Exception to the Overfeeding Rule

When a mother has an oversupply of milk, she might be overfeeding her baby on lactose! If this is the case, she will notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Your baby is choking on the breast
  • Your baby is cranky after feedings
  • Your milk usually squirts all over the place
  • Your baby has green, explosive, mucousy stools
  • Excessive gassiness

Oversupply can result in a more rapid weight gain, but this is not a cause for concern unless it is bothering mom and baby. If this is you, block feeding is the solution. See how to fix a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance. 

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2791708/?tool=pubmed

Opportunities for the Primary Prevention of Obesity during Infancy

Ian M. Paul, MD, MSc,1 Cynthia J. Bartok, PhD,2 Danielle S. Downs, PhD,2 Cynthia A. Stifter, PhD,2 Alison K. Ventura, PhD,3 and Leann L. Birch, PhD2

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15314625?dopt=Abstract

Breast-feeding and childhood obesity--a systematic review.

Institute for Social Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians University, D-81377 Munich, Germany.



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