Among the many worries parents have during their child’s first year is whether or not their baby is on track for weight gain. If your little one is behind in this area, you may not know how to help your baby gain weight in an age-appropriate way. Thankfully, there are a few little tricks that you can use to help baby pack on some pounds whether they’re breastfed, bottle-fed, or have moved on to table foods.
It’s important to know you should never just assume your baby is too little and take things into your own hands. You should only be increasing caloric intake under the advice and oversight of their pediatrician. “If your baby is not gaining weight appropriately, the most important thing to do is to work with their doctor,” Dr. David L. Hill, M.D., FAAP, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells Romper in an email. “[There could be an] underlying problem such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), prematurity, or something worse,” Dr. Hill explains, which may mean more or different intervention is needed, so working with your child’s pediatrician will get your baby the best possible care for their specific circumstances.
Helping Baby gain weight with extra breast milk and fortified formula
If your child's physician has instructed you to help your baby gain weight, pediatrician Sara DuMond, M.D., FAAP, medical advisor for Dr. Brown's, says there are some simple ways to do so. "If breastfeeding, you may want to pump and add an extra bottle of expressed breast milk into their feeding schedule," or you can also try "human milk fortifier which is a way to add calories to expressed breast milk." For full-term infants consuming standard formula, Dr. DuMond notes there are "special formulas that contain 22 or 24 calories per ounce" (a standard baby formula is 20 calories per ounce) that your pediatrician may advise you to switch to until your baby has gained some weight.
Adding calories if Baby is eating solid foods
For little ones who have added puree foods to their diet, Dr. Hill says, "Offering feeds after every nursing session can be helpful." Or, you can add the breastmilk or formula right into the puree so it's all in one feeding, suggests Dr. DuMond. Your doctor may also advise giving your baby an extra serving of iron-fortified baby cereal daily or mixing pureed foods into solid foods, she says. She also advises parents to monitor liquid intake before meals, because "solids will be packed with more calories than liquids [and] if baby’s belly is full on formula or breast milk, they may not have an appetite for solids."
High-fat & high-calorie table foods to try
If your baby has moved to solids, whether they’re eating pureed or table foods, there are a few ways you can sneak in some extra calories. “Consider cooking with coconut oil to help boost healthy fat content of the puree,” registered dietitian, Anita Mirchandani, M.S., R.D., C.D.N, tells Romper in an email. Other suggestions from Mirchandani include:
- Use coconut milk to increase fat without adding dairy (she explains dairy can sometimes be an issue for breastfed babies)
- Flax oil and walnut oil also add healthy fats, so you can cook with them or mix in a little to a puree
- Soft oatmeal mixed with hemp seeds
- Whole milk yogurt
- Nut butters
- Sunflower seed butter (Sunbutter)
- Small pieces of whole milk cheese
Signs Baby needs to gain weight
Again, none of these measures should be taken without first discussing weight with your pediatrician, especially because your baby's general build may mislead you into thinking they're underweight. "The growth curves really tell us the whole story," Dr. Hill explains, "Babies who start skinny usually stay skinny, and babies who start chunky often stay that way. As long as your baby is staying on their own growth curve, you can breathe a sigh of relief." Some symptoms that should definitely signal a call to the pediatrician include "dark, concentrated urine and not soaking diapers overnight, inability to go longer than 2 or 3 hours at a time without expressing hunger cues, infrequent stools, or a sunken soft spot on baby's head," says Dr. DuMond.
Once you've been instructed to help your baby gain some weight, make sure you're staying in touch with their pediatrician throughout the journey. "Parents should never make determinations about babies being over or underweight, on their own, without the guidance of a pediatrician," says Dr. DuMond, so the process really needs to be a joint effort from start to finish. Hopefully, that process won't take long at all, though, and you'll be back to typical feedings in no time.
David L. Hill, M.D., FAAP, Spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics & Author of Co-Parenting Through Separation and Divorce: Putting Your Children First
Sara DuMond, M.D., FAAP, Pediatrician and Dr. Brown's Medical Expert
Anita Mirchandani, M.S., R.D., C.D.N, registered dietician
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