How To Tell If A Baby Is Getting Enough Milk

It would be great to be able to measure how much milk a baby is consuming during breastfeeding. Watching for these simple signs can reassure worried parents.

Breast is best, but breasts don’t have ounces and milliliters printed on their sides. Breastfeeding mothers often worry because there is no way to tell how much milk their baby is taking in. How can moms be sure their baby is getting enough milk? In fact, it’s very easy to tell. Here’s how.

Baby’s Hunger Cues and Signals

It is very unlikely that a baby, even a brand new one, will allow itself to go hungry. Parents can look for many different signals that the baby is wanting to nurse or wanting to continue to nurse. Some parents mistakenly believe that crying is the only hunger cue a baby will give, but actually crying is what is known as a “late” signal, given when the baby has already been trying for some time to let parents know she is hungry. Earlier feeding cues include:

Opening and closing mouth

Sticking out the tongue

Smacking lips

“Rooting” or turning head toward the breast.

“Pecking” or head-bopping when the baby is held upright

Fussing (late signal)

Crying (very late signal)

Babies displaying these signs are probably ready to nurse and should be offered the breast. Breastfed babies will show these behaviors several times a day (up to 10 times for a newborn, with older babies feeding less often).

Good Feeding Technique – Latch-on and Swallows

In order to feed most efficiently, babies need to be properly latched on. A proper latch means that baby’s mouth is open wide, and the baby has a good mouthful of breast tissue, rather than just the nipple. A good guideline is that the latch should include about an inch of the areola (the darker area around the nipple). Mother’s milk-producing ducts live right behind the areola, and a good deep latch stimulates let-down, allowing the baby to access as much milk as possible.

Another important aspect of breastfeeding technique is to check for baby’s swallows. As the baby breastfeeds, the mother will notice his chin working up and down. Here is the process mothers can look for to check baby’s technique:

1. 1 to 2 minutes of quick, short sucks to encourage milk ejection

2. Sucks begin to slow down and deepen

3. Baby’s chin movement pauses when the mouth is open

4. Baby swallows, chin rises – repeat!

Moms should check for those pauses. If they’re happening every suck or every couple of sucks, the baby is getting a good flow of milk.

How Long Should Baby Nurse?

Unfortunately, there is no rule. The only good answer is, “Until he’s not hungry anymore.” This can be 10 minutes per breast for some babies, and 45 minutes for others. Normally, it gets faster as the baby gets older, with some older babies finishing the whole job in less than 10 minutes. Moms should check the swallows. If the baby is taking good long gulps, he’s doing fine, and he will come off when he’s done (or go to sleep).

Healthy Weight Gain

Here is something nice and measurable for parents who wish breasts were indeed graduated. A baby who is meeting or exceeding monthly or weekly growth targets must be getting enough to eat. Here is the average expected weight gain for babies in their first year:

Month 1: 112-200 grams (4-6 ounces) per week.

Months 2 to 6: 500 grams to 1 kilogram (1-2 pounds) per month.

After 6 months: 500 grams (1 pound) per month is normal.

Babies vary, though, so an infant who does not reach the weekly or monthly target may still be perfectly healthy. Parents should consult their doctor or midwife and consider the other factors in this article.

Frequent Full Diapers

What goes in must come out, and whatever doesn’t get used for growth and daily activities will come out in the diaper. There is no way a baby who is not getting enough to eat could possibly carry on filling diapers regularly, so this is a good way for parents to check the baby’s milk intake. Here are some guidelines for what to look for:

Day 1: One or more damp diaper, one or more soiled diaper (meconium)

Day 2 to 4: Two or more damp diapers, one to three soiled diapers (greenish stool)

By Day 6: 4-6 “heavy” wet diapers in 24 hours, 4 loose, seedy stools (yellowish)

The number of soiled diapers in 24 hours may decline slightly after 3 to 4 months, and certainly after the baby has started solid foods. A “heavy” wet diaper is one that has a few tablespoons worth of liquid in it, which actually doesn’t feel very heavy at all, particularly in a disposable diaper. Parents who want to be extra sure can take a diaper and pour 4 tablespoons of water into it to see what a heavy wet diaper feels like.

How Much Milk is Enough?

All parents want their babies to get enough milk so that they will not be fussy and uncomfortable, and so that they can maintain healthy growth, development, and weight gain. 

That means that if the baby is maintaining healthy growth, development, and weight gain, and she doesn’t seem fussy or uncomfortable, she’s probably getting enough milk! “Enough” is when the baby isn’t hungry anymore.

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