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Can You Overfeed a Breastfed Baby?

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Authored by Donna Johnson in Pregnancy
Published on 11-29-2009

If you have chosen to breastfeed your baby, you may have many questions about the process. One of the most common questions is how to make sure you aren’t overfeeding your baby. However, many medical professionals agree that you can not overfeed a breastfed baby.

From the beginning, you should breastfeed on demand, or whenever the baby shows signs of being hungry. These signs include sucking her fist, “rooting” or making head movements as though she is searching for the breast, and crying. Breastfeeding on demand is important to get your milk supply properly established for your baby. Newborns will nurse at least eight times a day. This is normal, and does not mean that you are overfeeding your baby. Her stomach is very small, and she digests breast milk more quickly than she would formula, so she really does need to eat that often.

At about two weeks of age, and then again at about five weeks of age, your baby will go through a growth spurt. During this time, she will want to nurse more frequently and for longer durations for a few days. The increased feedings are not a sign that you are feeding her too much. They are just her way of getting enough milk to fuel her growth spurt and of making sure your body increases milk production for her during this time.

Many babies like to nurse for comfort. Comfort nursing is distinctly different from actually eating and the two should not be confused. When your baby is actually eating, you will feel a rhythmic, strong sucking and you will be able to see and hear her swallowing. Comfort nursing is a much softer, almost fluttery sucking, and your baby will rarely swallow, if it all. If comfort nursing is confused with feeding, it can be easy to think you are overfeeding your baby, but this is not the case.

If you pump breast milk to allow another person to bottle feed your baby while you are at work, you should encourage him or her to only offer two to three ounces of milk to your baby at one time. Also, your baby should not be pressed to finish the entire bottle, just as she would not be pressed to nurse longer at the breast. Pressure to eat a certain amount from a bottle can lead to spitting up, and is about the closest a breastfed baby will come to being overfed. The caregiver should watch for signs that your baby is full, including thrusting her tongue to push the bottle’s nipple out of her mouth or beginning to fall asleep.

If you and your baby’s caregivers pay close attention to the signs that your baby is hungry and feed her appropriately, it is not likely that you can overfeed a breastfed baby. If you are still concerned that you may be overfeeding your baby, talk to her pediatrician. The doctor can set your mind at ease by weighing your baby and comparing her growth to the average baby’s growth.

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