Feeding Babies: How Much is Enough?!

As an adult, sometimes it’s hard for us to know whether we’re ‘full’ from a meal.

As a parent, it can be even harder to tell if your baby is full. Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, there are several cues in the early months that your baby has had enough.

  • Sucking has slowed down or become intermittent
  • Face is relaxed, eyes are closed, but baby is not necessarily fully asleep
  • Baby spits out the breast or bottle
  • Baby spits up milk

A normal-sized stomach is about the size of two fists, whether you’re 2 months, 2 years or 20 years old.

For many babies, this means that their stomachs can only comfortably hold 1-2 ounces of milk.

Spitting up is more likely a sign of overfeeding than of a serious medical problem.

What can confuse the question is that babies like to suck! Sucking helps babies relax, and it promotes digestion.

This is true for older children and adults, too. Thumb-sucking, gum chewing and sucking on hard candies also help reduce stress.

So, a baby who continues to “suck down a bottle” is not necessarily doing it because of hunger, but rather because it feels good to suck.

Because adults can be confused about how much a baby can hold, we often prepare far more food than the baby needs at a meal.

Plus, their sucking behavior can make us think they’re still hungry.

If they’re fussy after a feed, we might think it’s because they’re still hungry, when in fact they could be uncomfortably full (think ‘Thanksgiving Dinner!’).

What’s a parent to do?! Try these tips.

Signs of Overeating

  • When breastfeeding, watch your baby for signs of being full (the list above). If your baby still wants to suck and breastfeeding is going well, it’s okay to offer a pacifier or find other ways to calm your baby.
  • If you’re feeding with a bottle, put a little less in the bottle than your baby’s two fists.
  • The size of a bottle has no relation to the amount a baby should take. You can always give seconds, but don’t force baby to finish the “firsts.”
  • When bottle-feeding, take the bottle out of the baby’s mouth every few sucks, especially when you see their faces frown or their breathing speed up.
  • Yes, they will be like a vacuum holding on to the bottle. However, this is a way to give the baby breaks during the meal, the same way you might put down your fork or have a conversation during your own meal.
  • If baby consistently has spit-up with a burp, feed smaller meals. Think about giving many “snacks” rather than big meals.
  • Offer meals in two “courses” after the first breast, or an ounce or so from a bottle.
  • Take a break by burping, changing a diaper, playing, walking around or singing. Sometimes a gap can give enough time for baby to feel satisfied without becoming overly full.

Solid Foods

When babies reach 6 months old, they’re ready to start solids. This is more about helping them learn a new skill – eating – rather than making them take in a lot of calories.

Give small amounts at first – between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of soft food. They do not need to eat the entire jar.

Try just one food at a time. This is about learning new tastes and textures, not having a lot of variety.

Offer food with a spoon.

You can also offer chunks of very soft foods such as avocado, pear or cooked carrot that baby can grab, get to the mouth and squish with the tongue.

Milk (breastmilk or formula) will still be baby’s main food while you’re starting solids.

DO NOT put solid food into a bottle. This defeats the purpose of learning a new skill and can make baby choke.

The overall message is to watch your baby. Mealtime is a social event, so use this time to talk, make eye contact and be close to your baby.

Doraine Bailey is the Breastfeeding Support Services Coordinator for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. Contact her at 288-2348 or DoraineF.Bailey@ky.gov.