Breastfeeding or formula feeding? Either way parents worry that baby isn’t eating enough. And for good reason—babies can quickly dehydrate and become malnourished if they aren’t getting enough to eat. So how do parents tell whether or not baby is getting enough? They keep an eye out for the 15 warning signs on this list that baby isn’t eating enough.
Babies grow at different rates but there are signals that tell parents and doctors when baby isn’t getting enough milk or formula. Each baby is different but the warning signs are consistent. Usually baby will show more than one of the warning signs on the list if he isn’t drinking enough milk. Being vigilant of each indicator is important to make sure baby continues to thrive without a problem.
Moms are often encouraged to breastfeed if at all possible. A new campaign by Fed Is Best is shedding light on the problems that arise when breastfeeding doesn’t work out for baby. Now mothers are encouraged to understand the signs that baby is well fed and happy in order to keep baby from dehydrating or worse. Keep reading to find out what signs most mom ignore when it comes to feeding baby.
16 The Low Diaper Count
One great way to tell if a baby is getting enough to eat is how many dirty diapers she has each day. Once mom’s milk comes in, about 3 or 4 days after giving birth, the baby should start to have 5-6 wet disposable diapers a day. For cloth diapers it will be a little more at 6-8 wet diapers. Babies will also start to have 2-5 bowel movements each day. Some babies, though, switch to fewer bowel movements each day but they have larger bowel movements. This can happen at about 6 weeks. Having too few diapers can be a sign that baby isn’t getting enough fluids and nutrients. This can quickly become a dangerous situation for baby as they can become dehydrated quickly. It’s important to get help from your doctor if you suspect a problem.
15 There's No Swallowing Sounds
Babies nurse to eat as well as for comfort. Baby can control the milk flow so that he can get what he needs most from the feeding—food or reassurance. If you’re worried about whether or not baby is getting what he needs during the nursing session listen for swallowing sounds. Also watch his throat to check if he’s making a swallowing movement. These swallowing signals let mom know if he’s actually getting any milk during the nursing session. Although it won’t tell how much he is getting it will indicate whether or not he’s getting any at all. Any concerns about whether or not baby is drinking during the nursing session can be addressed with the pediatrician or lactation consultant. Many practitioners will weigh baby before a nursing session and immediately after to determine how much milk he was able to consume.
14 The Baby Sleeps Longer Than 3 Hours
Everyone dreams that their baby would sleep through the night. But for a newborn, breastfed baby this isn’t ideal. It can actually be a sign that baby isn’t getting enough to drink and could be suffering from dehydration. A newborn baby should be waking up to eat every 2-3 hours all day and night (yes, mom that means you’ll only be able to sleep for two hours or less at a time). Babies who sleep longer than this might not have the energy to wake and feed like they should. Don’t expect the newborn baby to be awake and active either. For the first few weeks of life they will do little more than sleep and eat. If you’re concerned that baby is sleeping too much check with your pediatrician. They will be able to help you decide if baby is getting the nutrients she needs.
13 There Urine Is Unusually Dark
One of the first things parents are encouraged to watch for is the number of wet and soiled diapers baby has. This is an indicator of how much milk baby’s body is processing. Another sign that parents should look for is the color of baby’s urine. The urine in the diaper should be clear to light yellow. Dark urine is a warning sign that baby isn’t getting enough fluids. It’s one of the first signs of dehydration. Try offering the breast more often so that baby has the opportunity to drink more. Usually that will clear up the problem quickly. If baby continues to have dark urine its important to talk to her pediatrician right away. This is one warning sign that is simple to check and track. It also is a one of the first signals that there is a problem you don’t want to ignore.
12 The Baby Isn't Gaining Weight
In the first few days or week after a baby is born, baby may fall slightly under birth weight. The baby plumps up a little bit at the end of pregnancy as a natural way to prevent this. After a few days, though, the baby should start to gain weight back. If the baby continues to lose weight or doesn’t steadily gain weight in the first weeks and months of life it may be a sign that baby isn’t getting enough milk. Usually bottle fed babies don’t see as big of drop from birth weight in the first few days after being born. Any baby shouldn’t lose more than 10% of her body weight in the first few days. Weight loss in a bottle fed baby may indicate something else is going wrong since mom can track how much baby is drinking.
11 Feedings Last Less Than 10 Minutes
If you’re not feeding with a bottle it can be difficult to measure how much baby is eating. It can also be difficult to decide how long each feeding should take. Some babies drink very quickly and some mothers have a fast let down. This can lead to shorter feeding times. Mom will have to trust her instinct some for this one. If baby is nursing for very short periods of time like less than 10 minutes on a side then it might be a sign that he isn’t getting enough milk. Take note of how long he usually feeds for but look for other signs too. If he barely feeds and also has too few wet diapers or another indicator then chances are he isn’t getting enough. Trust your instincts and get help.
10 The Cries Never Stop
Babies do cry from time to time but they shouldn’t cry all the time. Unstoppable crying is a sign that baby isn’t getting enough to eat to be satisfied. If you think that baby is crying too much make sure to get help from your doctor or midwife. Many parents think that it is normal for a baby to cry and might feel uncomfortable getting help. If baby is crying all the time he is probably trying to signal another problem is at hand and that problem might just be how much milk he is getting.
Jillian Johnson shared her heartbreaking story with Fed Is Best. Her newborn son cried all the time that he wasn’t nursing. He was inconsolable. He just couldn’t get enough milk and later died from dehydration.
9 The 'Let Down' Never Comes
Some moms know when they’ve experienced let down right away while others don’t notice the sensation. Let down is when the breasts release a burst of milk for the baby. It is a tingling sensation. Let down is when babies get a great volume of milk. After the initial let down the milk flow slows and baby may suckle for a while longer. Some women experience more than one let down during a feeding. If mom doesn’t experience a let down it may be an indicator that baby isn’t getting enough milk during the session. Since not all mothers notice a feeling associated with it this can be an easy sign to miss. Not feeling the let down along with another sign on this list may be warning mom that feeding isn’t going well.
8 Is There Pain?
While some sources claim that breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful, many mothers disagree. From dry, cracked nipples to difficult latching there are many ways that breastfeeding can be painful. The good news is that after a month or two things usually get figured out and the pain goes away. Painful feeding could get in the way of baby getting the milk she needs. One reason is that mom won’t be jumping for joy to have another feeding. When you feel like crying because the baby is crying to eat again you’ll know the aversion painful nipples can create. The pain could also be coming from baby’s latch. A poor latch can damage the nipples and cause baby to get less milk than she needs. If you’re suffering from pain during feeding contact your lactation consultant or local La Leche League to get help with latch and positioning.
7 The Skin Tells A Story
In the first weeks of life baby will sleep a lot. His main focus will be sleeping and eating as his body works at taking in tons of information on his new surroundings. At some times, though, baby should be alert and active. He should have a healthy appearance and good color. He should also be growing longer and his head should be growing larger. These are all signs that baby has the nutrients he needs to thrive. If baby seems to be lethargic, sleeps more than 3 hours at a time or his skin isn’t firm it might be a warning to mom and dad that something isn’t right. Dehydration is one of the first concerns when baby isn’t getting enough milk followed by a lack of nutrients to help him grow and thrive.
6 The Girls Are Hard And Unusually Uncomfortable
Engorgement is when the breasts are full of milk, hard and usually very uncomfortable. Engorgement can happen for a variety of reasons but it could indicate that baby is unable to drain the milk from the breast. This could signal a sucking or latching problem or lack of appetite from the baby. Mom could also suffer engorgement from a blocked duct or infection. If the breast is also red or warm there is probably an infection. If mom and baby have changed routines recently like going back to work or sleeping through the night then mom might experience engorgement as her body adjusts to the changes in demand. If mom is suffering from engorgement try to offer the breast to baby more often. Give baby plenty of time to drain the breast to prevent infection from happening.
4 Have You Checked The Baby's Height And Weight?
New parents often think that they want their baby’s percentile for weight and height to be in the 90th percentile or above. This really isn’t the case. A baby in a high weight and height percentile would be considered much larger than his peers. Most children should fall around the 50th percentile for height and weight. This is around average or where most children are. The key to a healthy percentile height and weight is that they are similar. A child that normally stays around the 30th percentile for both height and weight may be a little smaller but proportionally correct for their body type. A red flag is when a baby is at a much higher percentile for height and a lower percentile for weight (long and skinny). This might mean that baby isn’t gaining the weight he should and could mean he needs supplemental formula.
3 Feedings That Last Too Long
Just as it is difficult to tell when a baby has a short feeding it can be difficult to tell if baby is feeding too long or maybe she’s just a slow feeder. Some babies want to nurse nonstop. This can be a sign that baby is having a difficult time getting enough milk to be satisfied. But babies also nurse to soothe themselves. Once baby has her latch down, you can try to soothe her with a pacifier instead of nursing all the time. If this doesn’t work and she has another sign of not getting enough to eat like nonstop crying or too few wet diapers then it’s time to get help. Baby won’t have a lot of reserves to work from so it’s important to notice the signs and get help sooner than later.
2 Milk Is Slow To Come In
A mother’s milk should come in about 3 to 4 days after giving birth. Moms new to breastfeeding might wonder if they’ll know when their milk comes in. Most moms notice it right away. The breasts may begin to leak a watery white liquid (milk instead of colostrum). Usually the breasts become engorged—very full, hard and tender. At this point mom will know that her milk has come in and baby is finished with the colostrum. Colostrum is meant just for the first few days of life and soon a baby will need milk to thrive. If mom’s milk is taking too long to come in its time to talk to a doctor and think about supplementing with formula until the milk fully comes in. In some cases a mother’s milk never comes in.
1 Afraid To Ask For Help
For new or seasoned parents, asking for help can be hard. Often moms have a nagging feeling that something just isn’t right. When they don’t listen to that feeling it can turn into a dangerous situation for the baby. Of course, as parents we don’t want to freak out about every little thing turning our children into hypochondriacs. That’s why it’s so difficult to tell when it’s time to ask for help or not. Seeing one sign from the list is enough to cause concern for a parent. Seeing two or more signs is a definite signal that something is not going right with baby’s feedings. Make sure to get help or even demand help if you need it. Baby needs fast action to thrive especially in the first weeks of life.
Sources: La Leche League, Fed Is Best, Parents