When you’re keeping track of so many numbers — how many hours the baby sleeps, how often they poop, how much they’re eating — it can all start to feel like a guessing game. This is especially true if you're a breastfeeding parent with no trusty way to gauge how much your baby is eating (like ounce markers on a bottle). The more common worry is that the baby isn’t eating enough, but can you breastfeed a baby too much?
It turns out this can happen, but it’s not super common and it's not something to lose sleep over (as if you had any to lose).
“It’s possible to overfeed a breastfed baby but not as likely as a bottle fed baby,” certified lactation consultant Leigh Anne O'Connor tells Romper. “When babies are nursing there is a chemical receptor that signals the brain that they are satisfied.” A breastfed infant will stop eating because they are satiated, not because the breast is empty, according to a 2009 study done by the World Health Institute.
To make sure you’re feeding the baby when they’re hungry you can practice what’s known as “responsive feeding.” This means looking for cues that your little one is truly hungry rather than feeding them just because the clock says it’s time. Rooting, moving their hands to their mouth, making sucking noises, clenching fingers or fists over their tummies, or flexing their arms and legs can all be signs of hunger, according to Healthy Children. Responsive feeding may have long-term benefits too, as it can make it easier for your baby to naturally regulate their calorie intake later in life, per KellyMom.
Tracking your infant’s food intake doesn’t have to be stressful or rigid (you can save the stress for when they’re a toddler who will only eat white foods.) Like adults, some days babies may eat a little more, some days less. And if your baby seems especially hungry that’s totally fine; their tiny bodies are actually doing a ton of work, even if it seems like they’re mostly sleeping.
“All babies do in the first year of life outside the womb is grow. Most of what they grow is their brain. You can't grow too much brain,” certified lactation consultant Danielle Downs Spradlin tells Romper. “Unrestricted access to the breast is the gold standard for infant feeding.”
She adds that babies may, however, eat more than their stomachs will allow. Their weaker core muscles can mean that they spit up after eating, but that’s not necessarily something to be concerned about.
“It's not a problem if your baby nurses a ton and spits up milk unless your baby is crying in pain. Happy spitters create a lot of laundry, but they aren't sick,” she says. If you're still concerned, your baby's poop can also give you clues about whether or not they're eating enough (and serious question, why does so much of parenting involve being a bodily fluid detective?).
"The best way to tell that your baby is well fed is to examine poop frequency. In the first six weeks, babies should poop four or more times daily," Down Spradlin says. "Babies should poop at least once daily after that. Three or more stools a day is often optimal."
Babies will nurse for reasons other than pure hunger, however. They may want to nurse as a way to soothe themselves, or feel a connection to their parent, and you may notice that they nurse for longer in new situations or when their routines change. “Nursing is the time and place that is safe for them,” O’Connor says. There’s also a possibility that you have an oversupply of milk or it’s flowing quickly, but even in these situations, babies will give cues like unlatching or fidgeting during feeding to tell you they’re full.
If your baby is on the bigger side, remember, “it's very normal for breastfed babies to be fat and then lean out after weaning. Human milk feeding is correlated with more lean body mass in child and adulthood,” Downs Spradlin says. Plus, who doesn’t love a baby whose arms and legs look like bread rolls?
Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC
Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC
World Health Organization: (2009). Infant and Young Child Feeding. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148965/