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GROWTH OF BREASTFED BABIES
En Español Is my baby big enough? Are they growing? Should they be higher on the growth chart? It is common to wonder whether your breastfed baby is growing as they should be, and while diaper output is one good indicator of whether they are getting enough milk, progress on growth charts is also a tangible measure.
Growth charts can be a useful tool to monitor a baby’s growth “at a glance,” but they have some shortcomings. For example, the charts do not adjust for genetic differences (short parents tend to have shorter children than tall parents). Many parents also worry if their baby is at the bottom or top of the charts; however, since they show a distribution of normal weight gain, there will always be some babies in the lower and higher percentiles.
Here is a chart of average weight gain by age according the the the World Health Organization (WHO) issued Child Growth Standards.
IF MY BABY IS GROWING WELL, WHY DOES HE SUDDENLY WANT TO NURSE CONSTANTLY?
Your baby may have been breastfeeding at fairly regular intervals, but now, it feels as though you are spending the whole day with the baby at your breast! There can be many reasons why your baby has increased breastfeeding. These might include that your baby is experiencing normal “frequency days” (another term for days when a baby suddenly seems endlessly hungry) or your baby is fighting an illness. Whatever the reason, finding a comfortable place to breastfeed your baby with lots of snacks and water for you might make this time pass more quickly.
Sometimes a sudden increase in breastfeeding can precede a baby getting sick. Increased breastfeeding can provide valuable protection from illness, as your baby will be receiving antibodies and immunities that your body has made especially for your baby during this time.
Other times an increase in breastfeeding can be related to a baby reacting to something that you ate. If your baby has signs of allergy, or if you have noticed that your baby’s breastfeeding patterns change with eating certain foods, you may want to find out more about allergies and food intolerances. This page should be helpful.
Some babies also pick up their breastfeeding for other reasons. Are there significant changes in your life, such as a move or a vacation or visitors in the house? Have you been away from your baby more than usual recently? Is your baby starting to teethe? Often changes in routine or new stages of development in the baby trigger increased desire to breastfeed for comfort and reassurance.
In general, frequent breastfeeding times that last several days are to be expected at various points in your baby’s early months. For some babies, this might happen when they are around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months old. The LLLI book, THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, calls these “frequency days”. It is not known exactly why breastfeeding babies follow this pattern. Research has established, that the best way to maintain your milk supply is to breastfeed following the cues your baby gives you. Allowing your baby to breastfeed more frequently on the days your baby indicates the need, will increase the satisfaction both of you derive from breastfeeding. You will be more likely to have a full supply and your baby will be more likely to grow well!
On those days when all you feel you’ve done is breastfeed, give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished – meeting the needs of your baby and helping them to learn to trust you! You might enjoy reading the pages on this site about the importance of breastfeeding as you deal with your baby’s frequent breastfeeding times.
MY BABY IS GAINING WEIGHT SLOWLY. IS MY MILK OF POOR QUALITY?
Generally, except in famine conditions, the quality of breastmilk is not greatly influenced by diet. Even if your diet is less than perfect, your breastmilk is still the perfect milk for your baby.
However, the quantity of breastmilk can be determined by many factors. It is certainly possible that your baby is fulfilling their genetic destiny by being tiny.
But it is important for the baby’s healthcare provider not to be too casual about baby’s size if they are unhealthy in addition to being small. If they have suddenly fallen off their own growth curve, or head circumference is lagging, or they are delayed developmentally, then a change may need to be made in feeding.
Careful consultation with a medical practitioner can determine whether any of these factors are involved.
I’D LIKE TO DIET AND LOSE SOME WEIGHT, BUT WILL THE QUALITY OF MY MILK BE AFFECTED?
A general rule of thumb is that your weight loss should be gradual, about one pound per week, and you should eat a balanced and varied diet including foods naturally rich in calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and folate. Moderate exercise is beneficial and appropriate for a nursing parent. Sometimes just a brisk half-hour walk with your children in the stroller in the morning can help. Remember that your body has retained some extra fat stores in order to nourish your baby in the early weeks, but as your baby gets a bit older and begins solids around the middle of their first year, those fat stores will be a bit less necessary. You may find that the weight falls off at that point, too, without too much effort on your part.
Many nutritionists suggest that nursing parents not try to lose weight purposely for the first two months postpartum because during that time the focus needs to be on recovering from childbirth and building a good milk supply.
Crash diets, fad diets, and very quick weight loss are not recommended while breastfeeding. Gradual weight loss is considered no more than 4 pounds per month.
Another thing to think about is whether you are eating more processed foods that may be convenient but may not be high in nutrition. Sometimes parents of small children spend so much time preparing nourishing meals for their little ones they forget to eat well themselves!
Is my baby getting enough milk?, LLL USA
Thinking of Supplementing? (PDF), LLL USA
Helping to Get Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start: Milk Supply, LLL USA
Average Growth Patterns of Breastfed Babies, KellyMom
Average Weight Gain for Breastfed Babies, KellyMom
What affects the amount of fat or calories in mom’s milk?, KellyMom
Frequency of Feeding, LLLI
Baby’s Poop, LLLI
Exercise and Breastfeeding, LLLI
Weight Loss for Mothers and Breastfeeding, LLLI
Breastfeeding with Hypoplasia: Insufficient Glandular Tissue, LLLI
Our obsession with infant growth charts may be fuelling childhood obesity, The Conversation
My baby is at a low weight percentile. Help!, LLL USA Facebook
IS YOUR CONCERN OR QUESTION NOT COVERED HERE?
Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated January 2020
Resource partially adapted from LLLI materials.
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