Are you worried about how to know if your baby is eating enough? Let’s be real, your baby’s milk intake is your biggest job when they are brand new, and it’s a big responsibility.
At first, this job can be pretty intimidating for some moms. After all, you can look at the side of a bottle and read measurements of how many ounces (or ccs, if you’re outside of the United States) your child is drinking, but breasts don’t come with those markings. So it’s reasonable for you to wonder how to know if your baby is eating enough.
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Assuming your baby is healthy, it’s actually not that hard to know whether or not you have fed her enough. Despite this fact, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of over-complication, fearmongering and misinformation out there. Breastfeeding support is a huge passion of mine, so I want to help.
Read on to learn how to actually know whether or not your baby is eating enough (especially to know whether they’re getting enough breastmilk).
How to know if my breastfed baby is eating enough
To learn whether your baby is eating enough, I’m not going to try to sell you a fancy app.
I’m not going to recommend a bracelet to remind you which breast to use.
I’m just going to ask a simple question:
Is your baby making wet and dirty diapers throughout the day?
Honestly, that’s the main thing to focus on. Of course, there’s a few more details about about how many diapers you should be changing, but assuming there’s no other health concerns for your child, that’s it.
Is my newborn eating enough?
For the first few days (around 3-5 days) after your baby is born, your breast milk won’t look like milk at all. Instead, it will be this thick, golden-yellow liquid called colostrum.
You will not make lots of colostrum at a time, but that’s fine. Your newborn will eat very frequently (like, every 2-3 hours at least), and their stomach empties quickly, so colostrum (without additional water or formula) will meet his needs. Until your milk comes in, you’ll know your breasts are “working” by the fact that your baby poops one time per how many days old he is and has one wet diaper for how many days old he is.
RELATED: Newborn breastfeeding – 12 tips
What if my baby won’t latch?
And it might be a struggle for a few days (or even more) to successfully get your baby to latch. Don’t panic, and don’t give up. I remember when my oldest daughter was first born, I could not figure out how to hold her and get her on my boob all at the same time. I would cradle her and then my husband would hold my boob (yeah, it sounds weird, but I was having a hard time!) up for her until we could get her latched.
When she was two days old and we just got home from the hospital, my little girl was really sleepy, so she wasn’t very interested in nursing.
If that happens, there’s an easy fix: Use a spoon. Colostrum is pretty thick, so you can hand express a little into a tablespoon and then tip it into your baby’s mouth.
Spoon feeding our baby worked perfectly for us. In fact, we only had to use this strategy for one day, and by the next morning, she was latching just fine.
Of course, it’s not always that easy to fix a latch.
If you continue to have problems with latch, don’t stress. Make sure to contact a certified lactation consultant (there’s likely one at your local hospital) or your local La Leche League leader, and they can give you detailed help based on your specific situation.
And if you’re having nipple pain, make sure you have some nipple cream on hand (this is my favorite kind because it’s safe for baby).
RELATED: New mom must-haves for the fourth trimester
How will I know when my milk comes in?
Your milk should come in within 2-5 days. You’ll know when it comes in because your breasts will feel and look much different. They’ll gain a cup size or two within a matter of days, kind of like what probably happened to you halfway through your pregnancy, but even more drastic (if you can even believe that’s possible!). They might be sore from all that extra milk volume for several days.
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After this, there is more fat and water in your milk, and it looks more like the milk that you’re familiar with from the grocery store. Now that there’s a lot more milk going into your baby at a time, her diaper output will change. The rule after your milk comes in is that your baby should produce 3-4 mustard yellow, seedy looking stools each day and 5-6 wet diapers each day.
There’s a few other clues you can use after this to know whether your baby is getting milk AFTER your milk has come in. When your baby nurses, if you listen carefully you’ll hear her swallowing. It’ll sound sort of like keh. And although your breasts might feel really firm before you nurse, they should soften some after a feeding.
And yes, your baby needs to nurse frequently. She’ll nurse probably every 3-4 hours during the day and every 4-6 hours (sorry momma!) at night.
You don’t have to switch sides with each nursing session. In fact, I usually only feed from one side a session. This makes sure that she drains the breast and gets both the thirst-quenching foremilk (that comes first) and the hunger-satiating hindmilk from the end of a feeding.
Afraid you’ll forget which side you used? Just feel for the firmer breast! That’s the one you should feed from the next time.
Now, if your baby is especially hungry, she may feed, complete a breast, and still be kind of cranky (even after burping and all that). If she’s still acting hungry, offer the other breast and just see if she takes it.
By the way, some spit-up is perfectly normal. Holding her upright after nursing, or even keeping her upright in a baby carrier while she nurses, will help her swallow less air and help her tummy feel better.
Does your baby have reflux or is your supply really intense and too much for her (very possible right when your milk is coming in)? Use the laid-back nursing position to slow your flow down and make things easier for your baby (watch the video in the link to see what laid-back nursing looks like and why it’s so awesome!).
RELATED: How to comfortably feed your baby – Advice from a physical therapist
If you’re afraid your newborn isn’t eating enough
Recently, a friend of mine with a newborn texted me. Suddenly, her little boy was eating all. the. time. Had she experienced a drop in supply? Was something wrong? Did she need to quit or to supplement him with formula?
Nope – In fact, that upswing in nursing was a sign that something was right. I asked her how old her baby was and she told me he was six weeks. I knew then that he was going through a growth spurt. Babies tend to go through a growth spurt and suddenly eat voraciously at 10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 9 weeks, 12 weeks, six months, and nine months.
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Of course, these time frames can vary, but this gives you a rough idea of what to expect. After two or three days, your baby might have one day where they just crash out and sleeps a ton (or not), but their feeding patterns will slow back down to normal.
How to know if your baby is hungry
The important thing here is don’t watch the clock, watch the baby. Good indications that your baby is hungry is:
- Smacking lips
- Rooting around (like they’re looking for your nipple to latch onto)
- Gnawing on their fist
In fact, crying is a late sign of hunger. If you wait until your baby is crying to feed them, they will have a much harder time eating (just like you have a hard time learning a new skill when you’re upset, too).
RELATED: Baby too fussy to nurse? Try these tips
So assuming your feeding your baby on demand (which is to say, whenever he asks through those feeding cues discussed above), using diaper output as an indication that he’s eating enough is a great way to go.
And yes, that includes at night. Babies are physiologically programmed to need to nurse at least every 4-6 hours at night, and often more frequently than this. This is one of many reasons that I choose co sleeping with baby.
RELATED: Bed sharing with baby – how to do so safely
Do I need a special breastfeeding diet?
Often as I’m wandering through Pinterest, I’ll notice mommy bloggers suggesting a special diet for breastfeeders. They promise that if you eat a ton of oatmeal or take a certain supplement that you’ll have a robust milk supply.
While galactagogues can help under some circumstances, your supply is MUCH more affected by whether you feed on demand. Breastfeeding works by supply and demand – the more often you nurse, the more you signal to your breasts to produce milk.
RELATED: Is my milk drying up? Help!
Don’t buy into the idea that you have to eat a special diet to breastfeed. In fact, you’re probably fine eating whatever you want.
There are a few gassy foods you may need to avoid (for example, my oldest daughter was very angry every time I had beans and then nursed her), but babies being “allergic to your milk” is actually a rare phenomenon.
If your baby is 6-12 weeks old and is fussy in the evening, for example, it may have nothing to do with your milk at all. Instead, it may be a phase called purple crying that nearly every infant goes through.
RELATED: Purple crying – when you can’t make your baby stop crying
Don’t worry, with time and support, you will get through the newborn period, and it won’t be long until you have gained the confidence you need to know just how great a job you’re doing with your new baby.
(Note: You should keep taking your prenatal or begin to take a postnatal vitamin when you breastfeed. It’s not that this will greatly impact milk quality, it’s more about giving your body everything it needs to replace what milk production will take from you. Here’s a great option that has nutrients in an easy-to-absorb form.)
Conclusions on how to know if your baby is eating enough
Sign up for access to my Breastfeeding 101 resource. You’ll get reminders on how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk, learn where to find support for your journey, get access to the best breastfeeding resources the web has to offer, and even get a diaper tracker for the first week of your baby’s life so you’ll know he’s eating enough. Sign up here.
And if you’re wanting really detailed information on breastfeeding, be sure to check out Milkology, a 90-minute online course that will answer all your breastfeeding questions (and it’s written by an actual certified lactation consultant).
RELATED: Milkology’s The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class review
Any more questions on if your baby is eating enough? Let me know in the comments.