Weight Gain For Breastfed Baby: Tips & Resolving Concerns

breastfed baby weight gain

Mommies have so much to worry about… and always for their little one’s health! Weight gain for a breastfed baby is a common concern.

It’s hard to tell how much milk a breastfed baby gets because you can’t see it as easily as bottle-fed babies.

If your baby is solely eating breast milk, did you know they will grow at a different rate than babies that take formula? It’s important to know the differences so you can be confident that your baby is gaining weight like they should.

weight gain for breastfed baby

Normal Weight Gain For Breastfed Baby

Breastfed babies gain weight differently than formula fed babies. Let’s talk about what is generally normal weight gain for a breastfed baby.

It’s expected that all babies will lose weight immediately after birth. The average is 5-7% of their body weight, but some babies can lose up to 10%. 

Weight loss after birth is mostly water. Babies spend 9 months in amniotic fluid, so they lose some of the water they soaked up after birth. 

By 2 weeks of life, a breastfed baby should be back to their birth weight. Then for the next 3 months, they should gain about an ounce per day. 

Around 4 months, babies’ growth starts to slow, and the average breastfed baby doubles their birth weight by 4-5 months. 

Breastfed babies typically gain weight faster than formula fed babies for the first 4 months, then from 4-12 months formula fed babies grow faster. 

That’s why it’s important to use the correct growth chart for your baby! 

Breastfeeding Baby Weight Gain Chart

Make sure to use the correct breastfed baby weight gain chart! 

There are different weight charts for breastfed babies and formula fed babies because they grow at different rates. 

Additionally, ensure that your pediatrician is using the correct weight chart for your baby. 

The WHO has charts for both breastfed and formula-fed babies. They are a great resource, and you can even print out the charts to take in for pediatric appointments. 

Breastfed Baby Not Gaining Weight

Around 5 months, breastfed babies start to slow with their weight gain. If your breastfed baby is not gaining weight during this time, it may be completely normal. 

However if your baby is younger they should still be gaining about an ounce per week. There could be various reasons for your breastfed baby not gaining weight. 

Keep reading for reasons and how to troubleshoot them. 

Breastfed Baby Losing Weight

Generally baby weight loss while breastfeeding isn’t normal. If your pediatrician is concerned, they might suggest supplementing or contacting a lactation consultant. 

Breastfeeding frequently is the best way to solve weight loss in a breastfed baby, but underlying conditions can hinder success. 

Reasons For Baby Not Gaining Weight

Here are some of the reasons why a breastfed baby isn’t gaining weight: 

  • Poor Latch. When a baby has a poor breastfeeding latch, they cannot transfer milk efficiently. While breastfeeding, a baby’s mouth needs to be latched deeply onto the breast to massage out the milk with their tongue.
  • Poor Milk Transfer. Anything that causes a baby to not transfer milk well can prevent growth. It could be caused by a tongue or lip tie, prematurity (low energy), an illness, or congenital causes. 
  • Not Feeding Frequently or Long Enough. Babies should lead feedings. They should be fed on demand and eat as long as they want. It’s sometimes hard to feed frequently and long enough with a newborn. 
  • Delayed or Low Milk Supply. Milk should start to come in between 2 and 5 days after birth. Delayed supply coming in could hinder baby’s growth. A low milk supply is generally caused by baby not feeding enough but could be a result of other problems in the mother. 
  • Illness Or Pain. If the baby has an illness (common cold, ear infection, jaundice, etc…) they may not be eating as much as they need to. Pain also affects how much a baby eats; teething and thrush are common examples that can affect a baby’s weight gain.
  • Using Different Scales. Using a scale at home can give you different readings. Doctors use special scales make for measuring baby weight. Be sure that your doctor is using the same scale each time. You also want to make sure that your baby wears the same clothing and has a dry diaper (or none at all). Too many clothes and a full diaper can cause incorrect readings.

How To Help Baby Gain Weight While Breastfeeding

The most important things to do when helping your baby gain weight are to: 

#1: Feed Your Baby. Your baby needs to be fed enough throughout the day, so breastfeed frequently. If you’re worried about poor milk transfer, you can try pumping. Supplementing may be an option- there are donor milk banks or formula. 

#2: Increase Your Milk Supply. After you make sure your baby is fed, then start working on your milk supply. You need to express at least as much as baby eats in order to keep your supply from dropping. If you want to exclusively breastfeed, you may need to pump to keep your milk supply up (while supplementing). 

#3: Get Help. The first 2 points are the most important; work on them in the meantime while you find help. A lactation consultant is a great resource for determining the cause of your baby not gaining enough weight. They can help troubleshoot latch issues or determine if there’s an underlying cause. 

When trying to help your baby gain weight while breastfeeding, these are some practical tips: 

  • Ensure A Good Latch. Sometimes it helps to reach out to a lactation consultant to determine if your baby is latched on well. Fixing a bad latch can solve weight gain problems while breastfeeding. 
  • Breastfeed Often. In the first 6 weeks of life, babies should eat frequently. They should eat AT LEAST every 2-3 hours, and some eat more often! Make sure you are feeding your baby on demand when they show signs of hunger
  • Avoid Pacifiers. Although they bring comfort, sometimes pacifiers can prevent babies from eating enough. It can be exhausting, but let your baby use YOU as a pacifier! Nursing for comfort increases your milk supply and helps your baby get more calories. 
  • Help A Sleepy Baby. If your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding, try switching sides to wake them up. Also, don’t be afraid to nurse them more if they wake up hungry a few minutes later. 
  • Supplement The Right Way. If you do have to supplement, there are things you must do to prevent your milk supply from decreasing. Continue expressing milk, pump and supplement with your own breast milk, and try to get back to breastfeeding once your baby starts gaining weight. 
  • Give More Hindmilk. Throughout a feeding, your breast milk changes. It becomes higher in fat and calories. Try letting your baby feed longer on one side or try only one breast per feeding. Eating more hindmilk may help your baby gain weight.

Pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues. They will start to wake, suck on their hands and fingers, open their mouth and smack their lips. These are signs that your baby is hungry – feed them! Babies generally feed better when their early hunger cues are caught. 

Once your baby is fed, they will show satiety cues. Before feeding, babies are tense, moving a lot, and have their hands clenched. After becoming full, they will be relaxed, still, and have unclenched hands. Often they will fall asleep. 

Recognising your baby’s hunger and satiety cues will help you determine if they’re getting enough milk and feed them on demand. 

When trying to help your baby gain weight, don’t force your baby to breastfeed if they aren’t transferring milk… longer feedings won’t help if they aren’t getting anything! 

Foods To Help Baby Gain Weight

If your baby is under 6 months old, the best food to help them gain weight is your breast milk! It’s packed full of nutrients, they just might not be getting enough of it. 

Try to feed more often and don’t cut your baby off before they’re finished. Further than that, your pediatrician or a lactation consultant can be useful to talk to if there’s an underlying problem. 

For babies that are older than 6 months, ensure they are getting enough nutritious foods and good fats. 

Some of the best foods to help baby gain weight are: 

  • Avocados. Full of healthy fats, avocados are packed full of nutrients. They give your baby healthy calories and are easy to eat. 
  • Bananas. Around 100 calories per bananas, they are a good source of potassium. Bananas are good fiber and convenient to pack for a day out. 
  • Sweet potatoes. Yummy for baby palates, sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamins and minerals. They are densely packed and good for helping your baby gain weight. 
  • Oatmeal. This is a common first food for babies, and for good reason! Oats are great fiber, a good source of carbohydrates, and have more protein and fat than other grains. 
  • Breast Milk. Is your baby still breastfeeding? Then offer them your breast milk often! After each meal and in-between, breast milk is nutritious and full of good calories and fat.

Overall, just give your baby a well-rounded diet. Feed them 3 healthy meals per day and offer snacks in between. 

Continue to breastfeed your baby when they want it – breast milk is still a fantastic way to help your baby gain weight. 

If your baby is active, eating healthy foods, and on target with their developmental milestones, don’t worry. Babies are just miniature people, some are built smaller than others. 

Breastfed Baby Weight Gain: Conclusion

In conclusion, if you are concerned about your breastfed baby’s weight gain first make sure there is truly a problem. Some growth charts will show a problem even if your baby is within normal limits! 

Also, each baby gains weight differently. Growth charts are averages which means that some babies are at the top of the range and some are at the bottom. 

If your baby is solely breastfed, first make sure they’re eating enough, then worry about your milk supply. Third, find help to determine what the cause is!

Kealy Hawk lactation consultant
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC

Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.

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