Do I Need to Give Extra Milk to My Breastfed Baby?
“My baby was really hungry and I don’t have any milk so we gave him some formula and then he slept for 4 hours”
“She wanted to feed every hour so I knew I didn’t have enough milk”
My breasts don’t feel as full, I think I have lost my milk”
A healthy full term baby usually does not need anything other than mother’s milk for the first 6 months of life.
Sometimes normal breastfeeding patterns can be misinterpreted as “not having enough milk”. Knowing these normal patterns can help you avoid unnecessarily supplementing your baby with formula.
- It is normal for babies to feed 8-12 times or more in a 24-hour period, especially in the early weeks.
- Babies will “cluster-feed” (feed often in a short period of time) at least once a day, most often in the evening. The “cluster-feeding” is often followed by a longer stretch of sleep.
- Babies go through growth spurts. During a growth spurt, mothers describe their baby as “wanting to nurse all the time”. Common times for these growth spurts are one to three weeks of age, six to eight weeks, three months, six months and nine months. Nursing on demand is the easiest way to get through a growth spurt.
Most cases of low milk supply are due to things that interfere with breastfeeding. Soothers, scheduled feeds, “top ups” with extra milk, and nighttime bottles can all result in a decreased milk supply. With good information and support, most women can make enough milk for their babies.
A very small percentage of women have underlying medical conditions that prevent them from producing enough breast milk for their babies. If you are unsure whether you have enough milk for your baby, it can be reassuring to have baby weighed.
- After 3 days of age, babies typically gain about 15-30 grams (½ – 1 oz) per day.
- Babies generally regain their birth weight by the time they are 10 days to 2 weeks old.
Make an appointment to see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant if you are concerned about baby’s weight or would like to have breastfeeding assessed.
Sometimes, extra milk in addition to breastfeeding may be needed for medical reasons.
- Small babies or babies born prematurely that are not feeding well enough at the breast
- Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia)
- Jaundiced babies (especially if treatment for jaundice is needed or if baby is not feeding well at the breast)
- Excessive weight loss and despite measures to try to improve breastfeeding
- Dehydration (not enough wet diapers. You can learn how many are expected here.)
If supplementation is needed, the first choice is always to use mother’s own milk. If it is not possible to supplement with milk the mother has expressed, the second choice is pasteurized donor breast milk. Some cities have a breast milk bank. If breast milk is not available, formula is the next option. Your healthcare provider will help you to decide which type of formula is best for your baby.
There are many ways to give extra milk to a baby. Your healthcare provider can help you to choose the right method for your baby’s circumstances.
References and More Information:
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. “ABM Clinical Protocol #3: Hospital Guidelines for the Use of Supplementary Feedings in the Healthy Term Breastfed Neonate, Revised 2009.” Breastfeeding Medicine 4.3 (2009): 175-82. Web.
- World Health Organization/Unicef. “Acceptable Medical Reasons for Use of Breast-milk Substitutes.” World Health Organization, 2009. Web.
About the authors:
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.
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