Enough Is Enough: Don’t Overfeed Your Baby

By Doraine Bailey

Understanding if your baby is getting enough to eat is a big challenge for parents.

Unfortunately, because we can’t directly see how full a baby is, we have to judge from the way the baby acts – and sometimes it’s hard to tell what is going on.

Luckily, we can use the same signs of hunger and fullness with babies that we can use with ourselves.

How much can a baby’s stomach hold?
During pregnancy, babies are fed through the placenta, so their stomachs don’t “hold’ food and the baby is never hungry.

At birth, the stomach can hold only about 2-3 teaspoons of breastmilk or formula at a time.

That’s why newborns seem to want to eat all the time – not because mom doesn’t have enough colostrum or breastmilk, but because baby can’t hold very much at any one feeding.

Gradually, a baby’s stomach will stretch. A good way to figure out the size of the baby’s stomach is to look at the baby’s closed fists.

One fist equals the stomach relaxed, two fists equal the stomach comfortably stretched.

For most babies under 1 month of age, this will equal about 1 ounce per fist.

Although your baby’s stomach could stretch beyond the size of two fists, the baby will become fussy and uncomfortable, and will be more likely to spit up some breastmilk or formula.

Signs of hunger
Not every grunt, squeak or cry means that a baby is hungry. A hungry baby will make sucking movements, like sticking out the tongue or moving the lips, or she might try to suck on something like hands, pacifiers or breasts.

Crying is a late sign that the baby is hungry, and you’ll probably need to comfort her before feeding.

Signs of Fullness
Crying or fussiness can also be a sign that the baby has over-eaten and is uncomfortable.

If your baby spits up after nearly every meal, she’s probably getting too much to eat.

A baby who is satisfied and has had enough to eat should be relaxed. Your baby might fall asleep or be wide awake and ready to play.

A breastfed baby will slow down the pace of feeding and spit out the nipple when finished.

The bottlefeeding baby may also spit out the bottle or turn her head away.

Avoid forcing a baby to finish the feeding. As you watch your baby and cue in to her signs of relaxation, you will become better at knowing whether she wants a snack or a meal.

After a baby returns to birth weight, by about 2 weeks, she should gain about 4-7 ounces per week for the first few weeks, then 1-2 pounds a month up to 6 months.

If your baby is gaining a lot more or less than these averages, talk with your health care provider.

Avoid the Food Coma
As your baby gets older, she will do more than eat and sleep. She will also fuss and cry for reasons besides hunger.

Respond to your baby’s desires to be held, played with and comforted with patient and calm interactions, not only by feeding.

Pushing babies to over-eat into a food coma, with either too much milk or by adding cereal to a bottle, can set the stage for feeding problems and overweight.

It also robs you and baby of the chance to get to know each other and deepen your bond.

To view the Baby Hunger-Fullness Scale, visit http://caloriecount.about.com/hunger-fullness-scale-b287971

Doraine Bailey, MA, IBCLC, is the Breastfeeding Support Services Program Coordinator at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. Contact her at 859-288-2348 or at dorainef.bailey@ky.gov.