A Short Introduction on Infant Growth
Many families are worried about breastfeeding successfully and having a baby that flourishes and grows well. It can feel very overwhelming to have a small person so completely dependant on your care ( and breast), and it's common for parents to be concerned about weight gain as a sign of health. New parents often confuse frequent feeding as a sign that the baby is not being fed enough or well. In some instances the baby is simply having a growth spurt, in other situations the baby is truly not getting enough to eat, and the baby needs to be supplemented while breastmilk production is pulled upwards. In this post I’ll be talking about why it is important to be able to tell the difference between a healthy baby and a baby not getting enough milk. I will also provide 8 suggestions to correct the problem if your milk production is low.
What is normal weight gain for breastfeeding infants in the first place?
The average term infant will take about 10-14 days to get back to birth weight. This can be complicated by excessive weight loss in the first 3 days of life, jaundice ( sleepy nursing) and preterm infant feeding ( more sleepiness). If the baby has lost 10% or more from original birth weight, then it is reasonable that it might take the full 14 days or a few days longer to regain the weight.
After 2 weeks of life my expectation is that the baby should be able to gain 6-7oz (180-210 grams) per week if they have access to a full supply of breastmilk. If your baby is not gaining weight regularly, losing weight in a prolonged fashion ( still losing on day 5, or still under birth weight at 17 days of life) it’s important to figure out why, and correct the issue. Older babies may gain weight a little slower than infants in their first 8 weeks, but they should still be able to stay on their growth curve without falling off of it.
How to Tell if Your Baby is Gaining Enough Weight
A baby that is gaining weight normally, will stay on their growth curve and grow accordingly. It is also important to watch head circumference as an indication that the baby is healthy and getting enough to eat. Their are percentile for head circumference growth, as well as a separate chart weight. If your baby is gradually dropping weight percentiles and has dropped two weight chart growth curves downwards; it’s time for corrective action. Important to early weight gain tracking is that infants in their first 5-8 weeks should be stooling at least twice a day to indicate that they are eating enough volume of breastmilk. You can’t count weight gain if the baby isn’t stooling appropriately, it might just be a backup of waste material vs real weight changes. A well hydrated infant will have 5-6 wets and 2-3 poops in a 24 hour period, after the age of 5 days old.
How Milk Production Works
Milk production is dependant on the signal to make more, which is effective removal from the breast. Breast emptiness triggers a faster speed of milk production, while staying full over a long period of time slows milk production through the mechanism of the “Off Switch”. The off switch in milk production is called the Feedback Inhibitor of lactation, a small protein that we call FIL for short. Its build up signals a slow down in milk production. This is why pumping after breastfeeding to get very empty helps drive up supply. An emptier breast makes milk faster! The first 5 weeks or so of breastfeeding, the milk is produced in a way that is offset by hormones. Between weeks 5-8 or so, the production of milk is slowly changed over to mechanical milk removal. This means that the baby has to be able to do the work if supply is going to stay up. For women that have oversupply it might be closer to around week 8-12 before they notice a drop in infant weight gain due to tongue tie.
Why Isn’t the Baby Gaining Weight?
Babies that are failing to gain correctly will often have a structural reason for the issue; meaning possible tongue tie or lip tie. Sometimes tongue tie is assessed for by unknowledgeable healthcare providers and it is missed or dismissed, or a parent is told that the tongue tie is “little” or “unlikely to cause any problems”, and then the baby simply can’t get the milk out and no one can figure out why. Once this occurs, the mother’s body responds to the decreased mechanical milk removal, by making less milk. Milk production is dependant on milk removal. Supply follows the demand at the breast, so if the demand is not effective, supply goes down.
In general, a baby is not gaining weight well if the baby isn’t getting enough calories. Instead of focusing on the real reason some HCP will tell women that their milk is watery, low calorie or some other nonsense. When reviewed, there is little evidence to support such claims, and what can be seen is that a mother’s milk is perfectly made for her baby each time. The quantity that the baby is receiving is the usual issue.
Slow Weight Gain Without Infant Tongue Tie
If the baby has been assessed by an International Board Certified Lactation Consult already and it has been determined that the baby has normal tongue and lip function, this section is for you. There is evidence that other health conditions in the mother may influence milk production, such as PCOS, breast hypoplasia, breast augmentation, breast surgery, hypothyroid, anemia, low prolactin levels, postpartum hemorrhage, and diabetes. For those with a low supply that refuses to increase despite these tips, please look into visiting a lactation consultant to make a custom plan of action to pull up milk production. You may also need specific lab work to rule out health problems; your LC can help you figure out what is the best choice for you.
What You can Do to Correct Weight Gain
Reaching out for Help When Your Baby Isn’t Gaining Weight Right
It’s really hard to have your feelings that something isn’t quite right listened to or validated. Well meaning family may dismiss your worry about your baby as first time mother’s nerves. If you know something isn’t right or you think your healthcare team should be paying more attention, you are probably right. In the field of medicine we are quick to dismiss what we don’t totally understand or agree with. If your baby has not been gaining any weight, or is losing weight its time to start looking for a Lactation Consultant. Before you add in a supplement, please take a moment to really make sure one is needed. Please talk your options over with your Lactation Consultant! If you are not sure how to find one, I wrote another blog post on finding a Lactation Consultant near you that might help you find one!
Meeting Serena Meyer RN IBCLC for an Appointment
If you have given some thought about your situation and you live in the San Francisco Bay Area you can reach out to me through my webpage to book an appt: https://www.bayareabreastfeedingsupport.com/contact-me.html