6 Red Flags Your Baby Isn't Eating Enough

And how to tell if you should call your pediatrician.

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Whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed the goal is the same — making sure that your baby is eating enough to grow and thrive. But how would you know when you should be concerned? Fortunately, there are some red flags that your baby isn’t eating enough that can help you identify a problem early and avoid long-term complications.

“Signs that babies are not getting enough food depends on their age and overall health status,” Michelle Haas, pediatrician, tells Romper.

During your baby’s first week, there are certain markers that pediatricians look for concerning growth. “We expect one wet diaper per day of life. For example, a 2-day-old should have at least two wet diapers. By a week of age, six wet diapers per day is the average,” says Sara Huberman Carbone, MD. Parents should also keep an eye on the amount of stool. Stool follows a similar pattern to urine, with increasing frequency over the first week of life. By one week of age, a newborn typically has three to four stools per day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also suggested that while it's normal for babies to lose up to 7% of their birth weight in their first couple of days of life, they usually regain their birth weight within their first week. After that, they should gain 4 to 7 ounces per week. If not, it can be a sign of a problem.

But some other red flags that your baby isn't eating enough are more subtle and might be a little harder to measure, especially for breastfeeding moms who don’t pump. Here are some signs to keep an eye on.


They've Lost Or Aren't Gaining Weight

According to the AAP, watching your baby's weight is a great way to determine if they are getting enough to eat. Babies usually double their birth weight by 4 to 6 months of age, and triple it by their first birthday. On average, infants should gain 4 to 7 ounces per week in their first 4 to 6 months, and 3 to 5 ounces per week from ages 6 to 18 months.

But, if you don't have an infant scale at home, how do you know if your baby is gaining weight between appointments? Jody Segrave-Daly, IBCLC and infant feeding specialist, recommends taking your baby in for weight checks regularly, even if you don't have a well-child appointment. "I am a huge fan of frequent weight checks the first six months and then monthly after that for the entire first year of life for exclusively breastfed babies. Moms weigh their babies at their doctor's office or at some hospital-sponsored mommy groups. If a scale is affordable, I suggest buying one before having your baby, as a scale is the best tool we have for adequate weight growth," Segrave-Daly tells Romper.

She’s seen babies fall off the weight chart between appointments, which is why a home scale can be helpful. "The problem is babies may gain enough during the first two weeks of life and then slowly begin to lose weight, and it isn't caught until their two month weight check/immunization appointment. A scale is everything."


They Are Fussy After Feeding

“A baby who is very fussy right after feeding or shortly after may be hungry and not taking in enough during the feeding. Breastfeeding mothers may also notice that their breasts feel softer following a feed. If the breasts still feel full, the baby may not have gotten as much milk as expected,” Carbone tells Romper.

Also, “clusterfeeding” can be misleading. It’s not often normal for your baby to want to eat all day long. This may also be a sign that they aren’t getting enough food. Segrave-Daly adds, "It is important to know if a mother has any risk factors for the delayed onset of a full milk supply to know if timely supplementation is needed."


They Don't Have Many Wet Or Poopy Diapers

Haas says that the rule of “one wet diaper per day of life” during that first week is super important, and by the time your baby is a week old, they should have an average of six wet diapers per day, with three to four poopy diapers. If you find that your baby is peeing or pooping less than those, it’s worth a call to your pediatrician.

Other diaper-related red flags include dark yellow pee or red specks, which may be signs of dehydration.


They've Fallen Off Their Own Growth Curve

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While it's easy to compare your baby to others, or to their older siblings, it's way more important to monitor their own progress on their own growth curve.

“Every baby's feeding needs are unique. If a baby is overall healthy and is maintaining good growth at regular pediatrician checkups, then it is not cause for concern to be eating less often than expected,” Haas says. But if the change is “associated with signs of illness like fever, lethargy, cough or cold symptoms,” then she says it’s time to take them to your pediatrician.


They Are Sleepy Or Lethargic

While having a sleepy baby seems normal (and even great), according to the Mayo Clinic your baby should be "alert and active" in between feedings, and generally seem healthy. If they don't, it might be a sign that they aren't eating enough.


They Aren't Meeting Developmental Milestones

According to Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi, MD, board-certified emergency physician and newborn brain injury researcher, not getting enough to eat can even impact brain development. "Weight gain is important for a baby’s brain development, as a child who is not gaining weight does not have the extra calories and nutrients necessary for their brain to grow," she says.

Meeting certain milestones, like rolling over, smiling, and making sounds is important. Not doing these things could be a sign your baby isn’t getting enough breast milk or formula, or later on, that they aren't getting enough or the right types of solid food.

If any of these signs are your concern, contact your pediatrician. This will help you get the answers you need so your family can make any necessary adjustments to get your baby’s growth back on track.


Michelle Haas, pediatrician

Sara Huberman Carbone, MD

Jody Segrave-Daly, IBCLC and infant feeding specialist

Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi, MD, board-certified emergency physician and newborn brain injury researcher

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