Is my baby getting enough milk?

Let’s face it: our society loves to measure things!  Our breasts don’t have little lines on the side marking the number of ounces they contain so sometimes knowing whether your baby is getting enough milk can seem like guesswork.  Fortunately there are some tried and true ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.

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Often mothers wonder whether they are making enough milk.  One of the most frequent questions or concerns I hear is that a mother believes she isn’t making enough milk.  There are an incredible number of ‘false alarms’ that might make you wonder whether you have enough milk for your baby, but usually these have another explanation and are usually part of the normal course of breastfeeding.  LLLI’s Breastfeeding Answer Book (3rd Revised Edition) lists these false alarms as follows:

  • “The baby nurses very often.
  • The baby seems hungry an hour or so after being fed.
  • The baby suddenly increases the frequency and/or length of his nursings.
  • The baby suddenly decreases his nursing time.
  • The baby is fussy.
  • The mother’s breasts leak only a little or not at all.
  • The mother’s breasts seem softer.
  • The mother never feels a let-down, or milk-ejection, reflex.
  • The baby was weighed before and after a feeding and the mother was told her baby did not receive enough milk.
  • The baby takes a bottle after nursing.
  • The mother cannot express much milk.”

Most mothers DO make enough milk for their babies’ needs, though in fairly rare some circumstances (thyroid problems, polycystic ovary syndrome, insufficient glandular tissue) a small percentage of mothers will struggle with supply issues.  Getting good support is key to finding out whether you are in the midst of a false alarm or whether you do fit into this group of mothers.  And if you do fit the latter group, you should also know that it IS possible to continue breastfeeding even if you cannot meet 100% of your baby’s nutritional needs.  Again, support is essential.

Newborns usually lose up to 7% of their birth weight in the first few days, but by day 3-4 will begin regaining the lost weight.  By 10-14 days old most babies have regained their birth weight.  If you had intravenous fluids during labour it is possible that these can cause your baby to carry excess oedema at birth and so it may appear that he loses too much weight to begin with.  Be sure to mention this to your health care team so they have a full picture of what might be causing a larger than average weight loss for your newborn.

Babies may gain weight steadily or in fits and starts.  Many mothers and health care practitioners expect babies to follow a steady growth curve and to remain on the same growth line.  Many babies cross percentile lines and the important thing is that the overall trend is of weight gain.  However “a gradual drop from one percentile line to the next (or the equivalent distance) is unlikely to be a problem unless his weight is low for his age.”*

Weight gain isn’t the only way to know that your baby is getting enough milk.  After all, what goes in must come out.  Have a look at your baby’s diapers.  When your baby is about 5 days old his bowel movements should change from the tarry meconium to loose, mustardy yellow, sometimes seedy, sweet-smelling poos.  If he is getting enough milk he should have at least 3-5 bowel movements at least the size of a US Quarter (25 cents) in a 24 hour period.

And look at your baby.  Is his skin glowing, healthy and firm?  Is he nursing with vim and vigour?  Is he reaching his developmental milestones?  Listen to the voice inside you and consider your instincts: does your baby seem well to you?  You are his mother and you know him best.

Remember that your baby will need to feed at least 8-12 times in a 24 hour period, sometimes spacing them closely together as cluster feeds.  Remember to watch your baby, not the clock: letting him feed when he wants and for as long as he wants, and offering both sides, will ensure that he has all the opportunity he needs to fill his little tummy and quench his thirst.  For him, breastfeeding is not just nourishment for his tummy but also his heart: encourage breastfeeding for comfort and you’ll know you’re giving him ample opportunity to meet his needs.

When you’re worried about whether your baby is getting enough milk, skilled support can be a lifesaver.  A La Leche League Leader or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant will listen to you, observe your baby at the breast and give you the support and information you need to feel confident that your baby is getting enough.  And when you feel confident about this, you can relax and enjoy your baby.

© Lisa Hassan Scott 2012.  For reprint permission please contact the copyright holder.

* “Is my baby getting enough milk?” Information Sheet No 3201, LLLGB.

Photo credit: Berthold Werner; Dave Benbennick.  Wikimedia Commons.

Lisa Hassan Scott

About Lisa Hassan Scott

Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott