Is my baby getting enough milk?

Whether they’re breastfeeding or formula feeding, one thing the parents of newborns have in common is a focus on making sure their babies are healthy, growing, and well-fed. But for new parents who aren’t familiar with newborn feeding patterns, it’s not always easy to tell whether babies are getting all the milk they need. The first sign that a baby is getting enough to eat is that they are making enough wet diapers. Babies who are getting enough milk wet their diapers  every few hours, or after every feed. Ultimately, however, tracking a baby’s growth through their well-child visits is the best way to be sure that they are growing at a healthy rate. 

Signs of underfeeding

Most babies are happy to let their parents know if they’re still hungry, but there are a few warning signs that might show up in young infants who aren’t getting quite enough to eat. While it’s normal for newborns to lose some weight in the first week or two of life, they should catch up to their birth weight by the third week of life. Full-term babies are expected to gain about one ounce per day during the first few months of life. After that, their growth starts to slow down a little, but they still continue to gain more weight every day.

A baby’s weight is one indication of how they are feeding and growing, another is how well hydrated they are, which parents can get an indication of from the number of wet diapers they go through on a regular basis. During the first few days of life, as they first learn to feed, the number of diaper changes a baby needs can vary widely, but in the days after that, they will start to settle into more of a routine, and should be peeing and pooping regularly. It’s not uncommon for a young baby to need a diaper change after every feed. 

Pale urine in wet diapers means a baby is well-hydrated, but urine that’s darker yellow, or apple juice-colored after the first 4 days could be a sign that the baby isn’t drinking enough milk, and may be becoming dehydrated. Sometimes parents may notice orange crystals in urine, sometimes referred to as “brick dust,” which can also be a sign of dehydration. Crystals in urine often aren’t a sign of anything wrong, but it’s a good idea to check in with a pediatrician to make sure everything is on-track.

In the first few days after birth, babies may produce dark, tarry poops, but soon after, their poops should change. Dirty diapers look different in formula-fed and breastfed babies. Healthy poops by from breastfed babies are generally yellowish and looser, while formula-fed babies’ poops are generally browner and firmer. If very dark poops continue, consult with your baby’s pediatrician.

Signs your breastfed baby is getting enough to eat

Making sure a breastfed baby is getting enough milk is a unique challenge because unless they are being fed breast milk in a bottle, it’s hard to tell how much milk they are actually getting. UNICEF’s successful breastfeeding checklist outlines signs that breastfeeding is going well. These include feedings at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours, and being able to hear the baby making deep, rhythmic sucking sounds as they feed, with swallowing sounds. Successful breastfeeding, according to the checklist, is composed of feeds that last between 5 and 40 minutes, and where at the end of the feed, the baby comes off the breast on their own, in their own time. Additionally, the checklist includes the baby’s general health, and the right number of wet or dirty diapers, and the fact that breastfeeding should be comfortable, and shouldn’t leave the breasts in pain.

Signs your formula-fed baby is getting enough to eat

It can be a little easier for parents of formula-feeding babies to tell if their little ones are getting enough to eat, if only because it’s easier to keep track of the amount of formula they drink. There’s still no hard and fast rule for exactly how much a newborn should be eating, and the best way to tell if a baby is getting enough to eat is still to take a look at how they are growing, but after the first few days of life, formula-fed newborns generally drink about 1.5 to 3 ounces (44 – 89 mL) of formula per feeding, and feed every 2 to 3 hours in their first few weeks of life. This adds up to the 8 to 12 feedings every 24 hours that UNICEF recommends for breastfeeding babies, as well. Nevertheless, what a baby needs to eat can vary based on birth weight, health, and a baby’s personal physical makeup, and it’s important to check in with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

No matter how you’re feeding your baby, if you have any questions or concerns about their eating patterns, there’s no need to wait until your next well-child visit to check in with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant.

  • Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph. “Formula Feeding FAQs.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, February 2015. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding: How to gauge success.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 22 2015. Web.
  • “Breastfeeding: is my baby getting enough milk?” NHS. Gov.UK, January 26 2016. Web.
  • “How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, January 9 2016. Web.
  • “How you and your midwife can recognize if your baby is feeding well.” Unicef. Web.
  • “Making Sure Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
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