for breastfeeding & pumpin' mums

Hungry baby? How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk

A lot of new mothers fall into the trap of thinking their baby isn’t getting enough milk or worrying that their supply isn’t enough to feed their new baby. How often and how much to feed your baby is often confusing and advice can be outdated or contradictory.

Signs of a contented baby

It is easy to worry your baby isn’t getting enough milk but there are some easy ways to tell if your baby is content with their milk intake or if they aren’t getting enough. Are they having plenty of wet nappies, or are they often dry or have very yellow urine? Dark urine and dry nappies can be a sign of dehydration and it’s best to check with a doctor on what your best course of action should be. Is your baby generally happy or are they very fussy? Do you feed them when they are hungry or do you try to hold out for a strict feeding routine? Are they putting on weight or does their weight seem to be going down on the growth chart? If you are saying yes to the first option in each of these questions chances are you have a contented baby but if you are worried it is best to consult a lactation consultant or doctor.

Looking for cues

Is your baby looking for a feed? Watch your baby and try to spot their hungry signs before they start crying. Crying is a late cue, meaning by the time they start crying for a feed they have been hungry for a while and you may have missed the signs. Waiting until your baby cries for a feed can lead to a more stressed mum and baby so it’s a good idea to know the early signs so both you and bub can have a more enjoyable feed. Signs to look for include:

  • Early cues – opening and closing their mouth or smacking lips, sucking on hands or toys
  • Active cues – rooting around at your breast or the chest of anyone holding them, fussing and squirming, grabbing at or hitting your chest, trying to position themselves for a feed
  • Late cues – Crying, moving head anxiously side to side.

Scheduled feeding verses demand feeding

You know the saying ‘you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby’? Basically,babies will want a breastfeed when they are hungry and they’ll refuse the breast when they are not. Demand feeding is a new concept that builds on this saying. Demand feeding is giving your baby a feed whenever they ask for it (i.e. show hungry signs) rather than feeding them on a schedule even if feeds are more frequent and shorter. It can feel like a chore initially but as your baby grows they will become more efficient feeders and feeds will get shorter and easier.

While demand feeding is more compatible with a baby’s needs, it can be hard work and mothers may feel like they are constantly feeding their babies. If you are struggling with demand feeding or find your baby is more contented feeding on a schedule, don’t feel pressured that there is only one right way to feed your baby. Consult a lactation consultant, doctor or baby nurse for more advice.

Feeding and baby’s sleep

Should I wake my sleeping baby to feed them? It’s a question both new mothers and experienced mothers ask themselves. With a newborn, you may need to wake your baby gently for a feed if they have been sleeping for more than a few hours. As your baby gets old though, a hungry baby will wake up and let you know they hungry. Keeping your baby near you overnight will help you know when your baby is ready for a feed too. Furthermore it is recommended for safe sleeping to sleep in the same room as your baby for the first 6 months. During the night, it is normal for your baby to wake often for a feed, especially for the first few months, but you may find you have a baby waking frequently even as they age. If you start to get concerned that your older baby is waking too often for comfort feeding rather than hunger, or you are struggling to cope with the lack of sleep and tiring feeding routine, please talk to your GP or child health nurse for support. 

Older infants

Breastmilk (or formula) remains your baby’s primary source of nutrition until they are 12 months old. However, you may find that once your baby starts solids they cut down on the number of breastfeeds they have. This is normal but remember not to make solids their main source of nutrients just yet.

Once they are 12 months you may choose to keep breastfeeding a bit longer or start weaning them off the breast. Neither choice is wrong - it’s what works best for you!


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