If you think about it, raising a baby is pretty simple. Pretty much all they do is sleep, eat, be cute and grow up enough to meet those cherished developmental milestones. It’s balancing your schedule around these that can make it rather challenging.
But one thing that makes raising infants tough is this: they can’t exactly tell you what they want. Sure, they can cry and everything, but that’s vague communication at best. This isn’t too big of a problem with most things. After all, you can feel for a wet diaper and you can smell poop.
Many parents, however, worry about feeding. They worry that, perhaps, their baby is eating too much or too little. Here’s a short guide to help you out.
15 First: Don’t Sweat
The first thing you must know is that chances are, you’re actually not underfeeding nor overfeeding the baby. As long as you’re feeding on demand, and that you stop when she turns away from the bottle, you should be just fine. The vast majority of babies can regulate their own feedings so they’re getting just the right amounts of nutrients.
Because of growth spurts and other things that come with growing up, there will be periods where your baby is eating more or less than usual. Just to make sure she’s doing fine, her weight and general health is a better indicator of whether you’re overfeeding or not.
14 Second: On Weight Gain
Monitoring your infant’s weight gain is a great way to tell whether she’s getting enough nutrition. However, don’t expect that your little one’s growth will be straightforward and linear. Babies can be unpredictable and therefore so is how and when they grow.
For instance, during the first week of life, newborns will usually lose some weight. This is about 5% for formula fed babies and about 10% for breastfed ones. Your baby should, however, regain this weight by the second week. Following that, there will be fluctuations in weight gain. Overall, however, she should be double her birth weight by five months and triple this within a year.
13 Overeating: Bottle or Breastfed?
So first of all, let’s go into how to tell if your baby is overeating. The first question your doctor is likely to ask to determine this is whether your baby is bottle or breastfed. With breastfed babies that are fed on demand, it’s virtually impossible to overfeed.
With bottle-fed babies, however, overeating is slightly more common. This is because it’s much easier for your little one to get milk out of the bottle than from the breast. Some bottles even trickle milk even when she’s not sucking, which could make it easier for her to take in too much. But the chances still are that she’ll as you to stop when she’s done.
12 Overeating: Spitting
Sometimes your baby spitting after a meal could indicate that she’s overfeeding. This is because your baby’s stomach, being small, has quite a limited capacity. And so she might end up spitting out anything in excess of what she needs.
Do note that spitting does not necessarily equal overfeeding. There are other things that can cause spitting as well. This could be because the esophageal muscles can’t keep up with the milk intake, usually with bottle-fed infants. Another cause of spitting could be that she’s swallowing a lot of air, and some milk is coming out of her mouth as the air goes up as well.
11 Overeating: Vomiting
Another sign that could indicate that your baby is overeating is vomiting. This happens for the same reason as spitting: the baby’s tummy gets way too full and then the excess goes out. But again, overfeeding in infants is extremely rare and may have more to do with her immature digestive system rather than actually taking in too much milk.
If, however, the vomiting is persistent or your little one experiences other symptoms such as projectile vomiting, fever, dehydration or drastic unexpected weight loss, it might be time to call the pediatrician. With vomiting overeating is the least of your worries!
10 Overeating: Forcing It
While also rare, overeating can also occur if you force your baby to feed even after she turns away. This usually occurs in cultures where a plump baby is considered an ideal, healthy baby. In this case, it can be easy to be pressured to feed your little one a certain amount of milk, even when it’s more than what she needs at the moment.
It’s important to note that each baby has different needs. But all babies have stomachs that are obviously much smaller than adult ones and must be treated as such. If your baby doesn’t feed as much now, she’s likely to become hungry earlier to make up for it.
9 Undereating: Check the Diapers
If your baby is baby is filling up her diapers, then chances are he’s getting enough nutrition. Your little one’s kidneys will try to make sure that she has enough fluid in her system. Underfeeding means too little water intake, which in turn can lead to less, if not completely absent, urine that’s very dark in color.
Babies typically fill up at least four diapers a day, not counting the poopy ones if they’re not wet. In fact, during the first month, expect to change diapers every three hours, at least. Beyond that, you might do changes a bit less. If your little one lets out little to no urine in the span of six hours, however, do call the doctor.
8 Undereating: Rock-Hard Poop
One indication that your little one is undereating is if her poop is hard and dry. This is because your baby’s gastrointestinal tract will normally leave a bit of water content in the stool, to make it easier for it to get out of the body. Hard poop can lead to constipation and that is unpleasant for anyone, especially babies.
However, if your baby is taking in too little milk, her body will try to hang on to as much fluid as possible so as not to get dehydrated. One way that it does this is to absorb as much water from food as possible. However, hard poop could also be the result of starting on solid food or an illness.
7 Undereating: Unexplained Weight Loss
It’s important to help your doctor monitor weight gain and loss patterns in your little one. When your baby begins teething or learns to crawl, for instance, you might expect that she’s going to slow down on growth a bit. This is because, in the case of teething, she might not feel like eating as much as usual. And when she learns to crawl, she’ll be burning more calories than before.
In some cases, you can even expect a slight weight loss. However, if this persists for some time, especially when you feel your little one is eating poorly, do bring her to the doctor as soon as you can. You don't want to ignore the weight loss in a baby.
6 Undereating: Irritable
Underfed babies are typically irritable and restless. Imagine yourself starving for a day, after all. You’d be cranky too! This usually happens immediately after your little one’s blood sugar levels and water levels begin to drop. That's right, babies can get "hangry" too.
This is because your baby’s brain requires a certain amount of blood sugar to function. When blood sugar levels drop, this will make the brain extremely unhappy. If your baby becomes irritable and you suspect that this is because of undereating, try to increase feeding times or feed more frequently.
5 Undereating: Lethargy
So underfed babies will become irritable at first. However, as blood sugar and water levels continue to drop, there won’t be enough fuel to maintain the brain nor blood pressure to keep up circulation. It’s important at this point to distinguish whether your little one is just sleepy or is downright lethargic.
Once you know what a lethargic infant is, it’s easy to know the difference. This is when your little one seems to sleep all the time and is difficult to rouse. Most importantly, she might seem limper than usual. If you think your baby is lethargic or if she’s headed that direction, call the doctor immediately.
4 Protip: Check the Suck
Now that we’ve run you through how to tell whether your little one is overeating or undereating. We’ve also given a few tips on what to do in either case. However, here are a few additional tips as to what you can do to help.
First of all, check her latch, especially when breastfeeding. A baby that latches well is likely getting enough nutrients. Sometimes babies may have trouble latching on to the nipple and cause frustration for both the baby and you. So be sure to monitor whether or not your little one has a good latch. If she’s bottle-fed, make sure to remove the bottle when she’s done to avoid overfeeding. If, however, she likes to sleep with something in her mouth (something that is OK with breastfeeding), use a pacifier instead.
3 Protip: No Water for Six Months
Ideally, your baby should be taking in only milk for six months, or at least until when you start her on solid food. There’s no need to give your little one water during this time. The only exception is when she’s bottle feeding and she needs extra hydration because she’s sick or hot.
This is because your baby can get all the fluids she needs exclusively from milk at this time. Giving water will only take up precious stomach space. And since water does not have any nutrients, it can make your baby feel full even when she’s not getting what she needs. Doing this often can result in an underfed baby.
2 Protip: Make Feeding Pleasant
In some cases, a baby may not feed properly due to oral aversion. This may be because of a negative experience during feeding that has put your little one off of it. This is common in babies who required airway suctioning or tube feeding in the hospital due to a medical condition.
In this case, it’s very important to make feeding as pleasant as possible. Try to do relaxing things prior to feeding, perhaps cuddling her skin-to-skin for some time beforehand. Making feeding fun is also a good idea. Babies and toddlers will look forward to their feedings times if you incorporate catchy songs and even the good ole Choo Choo Train trick.
1 Protip: Get Help
When you feel that things have gotten out of hand, your best option might be to get help for your little one’s feeding habits. If her condition isn’t too serious just let, you might want to consult a local breastfeeding support group such as the La Leche League to give you advice. In some cases, an experienced friend’s help might even do the trick!
If, however, she is experiencing other concerning symptoms such as fever, lethargy, persistent vomiting and blood in the stool, don’t delay to call her pediatrician.