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If you have just begun your breastfeeding journey, you might be wondering how to know if your baby is getting enough milk.
It can be hard for new moms to know if baby is getting enough milk–mainly because there’s no way for us to measure how much milk baby drains from the breast at each session. If only breasts came with milk level indicators!
I totally understand the stress this can create because I experienced it within the first few days after my son was born.
Breastfeeding, especially at its outset, is no easy task. It’s a learning process that takes a lot of time, energy, and effort.
Thankfully, there are some easy ways to tell whether or not your baby is getting enough milk.
It’s important to consult with a certified lactation consultant and/or your health care provider if you feel your baby is not getting enough milk.
RELATED POST: 17 Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms
Here are 5 ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
1. Is baby gaining weight steadily?
Weight gain is an important indicator to determine whether baby is getting enough milk.
Most newborns actually lose some weight within the first week of life. A 7-10% loss is normal for full term breastfed babies, while formula fed babies can be expected to lose about 5% of their birth weight (source).
Most pediatricians expect baby to return to birth weight by 10-14 days old.
However, a 2016 study in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 14% of babies born vaginally and 24% of babies born via c-section were not back to their birth weight by day 14, so there can be some variation.
(Ultimately, it’s important to consult with your physician and a board certified lactation consultant to see if your baby’s weight gain falls outside the range of “normal”).
After returning to birth weight, a full-term breastfed baby should gain about 5-8 ounces per week within the first four months of life.
2. What is baby’s diaper output like?
On days 1-3 of life, a typical newborn produces at least one to two wet diapers a day.
By the second and third days of life, baby should have about three meconium-filled diapers daily. Meconium refers to the very first dark and tarry stools produced after birth.
By days four and five, baby should have at least five to six wet diapers, and three bowel movements a day. At this point, bowel movements will be loose and lighter in color, usually a mustard-yellow or green.
For about the first month, look for at least two stools everyday (although more than that can be common), and at least 5-6 wet diapers.
As babies get older, they usually poop less. But 4-6 wet diapers a day is still normal.
3. How does baby’s jaw appear while feeding?
Some moms wonder if baby is getting any milk at all within the first several days. This can be especially nerve wracking when baby wants to constantly be on the breast.
Remember that frequent nursing in the early days of breastfeeding is a good thing because it signals your body to make more milk!
An easy way to tell if your little one is actually getting milk is to look at his jawline while feeding. A baby swallowing during a let-down will make somewhat larger, rhythmic motions with the jaw that go all the way up to his ear.
You may also be able to hear swallowing sounds while baby feeds, (although not all moms do).
4. Is mom having pain while breastfeeding?
Although pain during the first couple weeks of breastfeeding is common, prolonged pain that persists beyond a few seconds after latching (even in the early days) can be a sign that baby may have either a tongue or lip tie, or both.
Oral ties can negatively affect your breastfeeding relationship and prevent baby from getting enough milk. If you think your baby could be tongue or lip tied, it’s important to seek out a professional opinion right away.
Initially, a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) can do a preliminary check on your baby to assess her for ties. If ties are suspected, your IBCLC will probably refer you to a pediatric dentist qualified to release ties.
(bonus #5) Is baby content after feeding?
This last one is not always reliable, but typically, a well-fed baby lets go of the breast on their own and seems content and relaxed after nursing.
I clearly remember the first time I realized my milk had come in while I was in the hospital.
My son popped off the breast in a deep sleep, looking especially full and happy, with an unmistakable “milk drunk” look on his face. From that point on, I would sometimes see milk dribble down his chin when he fell asleep at the breast.
However, I want to throw up the disclaimer that babies do go through periods of fussiness. So don’t automatically assume you aren’t producing enough milk if your baby is not content after a feed.
Babies get fussy for a LOT of different reasons (i.e. growth spurt/developmental leap, over-tiredness, being over-stimulated, etc.).
Reasons you might think baby isn’t getting enough milk, debunked.
Now that we’ve gone over how to know if your baby is getting enough milk, I want to quickly talk about some common reasons moms think they aren’t producing enough and explain why they are not good indicators of a supply issue
Mom can only pump a little at a time
Many new moms worry when they’re only able to pump an ounce or so at each session.
However, in general breast pumps don’t remove milk as effectively as a baby, so they’re not a great indicator of how much milk you actually produce.
A baby’s natural sucking reflex is usually able to extract more milk from the body than a pump.
Additionally, it’s pretty normal to only pump 1-2 ounces per session, depending on how long it’s been since your last nursing or pumping session.
Remember that it isn’t possible to measure how much milk your baby gets when feeding straight from the breast. So moms who pump are at a slight disadvantage in that looking at pump output can create anxiety if you’re not pumping a lot of milk each session.
Baby is fussy at the breast
Some newborns act fussy when mom tries to nurse and won’t settle easily after breastfeeding.
Babies get fussy for many different reasons, and it can be totally maddening to try to figure out why when you feel like you’re doing everything you can think of.
But don’t automatically assume that baby isn’t getting enough milk if your baby won’t settle down with nursing.
Oversupply can actually make a baby fussy because it causes gas bubbles and discomfort. Other things that can cause baby to be distressed are thrush, missing your baby’s early hunger cues, or over-stimulation.
Don’t only rely on your baby’s behavior to determine if he’s getting enough milk.
Breasts seem soft or empty
It’s normal for breasts to feel softer and to not leak as much as your body adjusts to your baby’s needs.
Breasts that don’t “feel” full can still have quite a bit of milk in them!
Baby wants to constantly nurse
Frequent, seemingly constant nursing is normal during the first several weeks of life. This is actually your baby’s way to tell your body to produce more milk.
The more you nurse, the more milk you will produce!
You got this, mama.
Motherhood comes with many highs and lows and when you throw breastfeeding into the equation, things can get even more intense.
Remain confident that your body was made to do this. If you feel you need help, don’t be afraid to ask!
Seek out support from a qualified lactation consultant. Find a good breastfeeding support group, such as your local chapter of La Leche League International. Or simply join a Facebook group for breastfeeding moms.
The more you educate yourself and get the breastfeeding support you need, the more confident you will feel in your ability to provide milk for your baby.
What has been your biggest breastfeeding challenge yet? Let’s support each other and talk about it in the comments below!
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