It happens that you go to your healthcare provider and your baby is weighed a week after delivery. Your healthcare provider is concerned that your baby is losing weight as opposed to gaining weight. You are breastfeeding, I mean exclusively breastfeeding and your healthcare provider says to give the baby some formula.
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You start to give tour baby formula but you also see where you are losing the battle for breastfeeding. Your little star does not seem interested in breastfeeding anymore and you are disappointed because you had planned to exclusively breastfeed. What is a new mom suppose to do? A newborn usually loses several grams of body mass a day in the first 3-5 days after birth before moving into an upward gain trend, experts say.
Breastfed newborns can lose up to 10% of their body weight during the first week of life.1 After that, babies gain approximately 1 ounce each day. By the time they are two weeks old, newborns should be back to their birth weight or even weigh a little more.
Your newborn is not getting enough breast milk and is losing too much weight if they:
- Lose more than 10% of his birth weight
- Continue to lose weight after the first week of life
- Are still under their birth weight after two weeks. (Paid link)
Reasons Why Some Babies Lose Weight While Breastfeeding
Newborns who are breastfeeding can lose weight for a variety of reasons.
- Not breastfeeding enough: It is important to put your baby to the breast at least every two to three hours to stimulate healthy milk supply and provide your baby with enough breast milk to gain weight.2
- Incorrect breastfeeding latch: When your baby isn’t latching on correctly, they cannot efficiently remove enough milk to grow at a consistent, healthy rate.2
- An issue with your baby’s ability to latch: If you have severely engorged breasts, large nipples, flat nipples, or inverted nipples, your child may have difficulty latching on. Babies can also have physical or neurological issues that interfere with their ability to latch on to the breast properly. Your baby will not be able to get enough milk without a good latch.
- Incorrect use of a nipple shield: A nipple shield can be a helpful breastfeeding tool when used correctly and under the supervision of a doctor or lactation consultant. However, nipple shields that are used incorrectly can prevent a baby from getting enough breast milk. They can also cause a decrease in your milk supply.3
- Sleepiness: Sleepy newborns need to be aroused for feedings every two to three hours. Breastfeeding a sleepy baby can be a challenge, but it’s very important to make sure that your baby is nursing often and getting enough breast milk to gain weight.
- Late onset of milk production: A difficult birth, stress, or a retained placenta are some of the causes of a delay in milk production. Until your breasts fill up with milk, your baby will not gain weight.
- True low milk supply: Certain physical or hormonal issues such as hypoplastic breasts, PCOS, hypothyroidism, or previous breast surgery, can cause low milk supply. If your milk does not come in by the fourth day postpartum, talk to your doctor and have an examination. In some cases, a true low milk supply can be corrected with treatment.4
What to Do If Your Baby Is Losing Weight?
If your baby is losing weight or not gaining weight as expected, you shouldn’t wait to ask for help. Your health and the baby’s health should be assessed, and you may need a lactation consultant. If a newborn is not back to birth weight by about 2 weeks of age talk to your primary care provider as this may indicate a possible concern. (Paid link)
Getting breastfeeding off to a good start can make all the difference in how successful you will be.5 Plus, correcting any issues right away helps to ensure your baby will get enough nutrition and fluids to stay hydrated and begin to gain weight. So if your breastfed baby is losing weight:
- Have your baby’s latch evaluated by your nurse, a doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding support group.
- See your doctor. Find out if there is a physical or hormonal issue that might be interfering with your breast milk supply.
- Take your baby to the doctor to check for an illness or any other problems that could be interfering with breastfeeding. Infections, tongue-tie, jaundice, and other newborn issues can cause poor nursing and weight loss in infants.
- Monitor your baby’s weight. Weigh them regularly at home.
- Monitor your baby’s diapers. Keep track of how many wet diapers and bowel movements your baby is having each day.
- Breastfeed your baby very often, at least every two to three hours around the clock. If you have a sleepy baby, wake them up to breastfeed every three hours.
- Breastfeed longer at each nursing session.
- Increase your breast milk supply by pumping. You can also ask your doctor or a lactation consultant about the use of galactagogues. Certain herbs, foods, and nursing teas may be helpful to increase a low milk supply.
If your baby continues to lose weight, it may be necessary to supplement. Talk to your doctor about continuing to breastfeed along with supplementation. A nursing supplementer device can be used to be sure your baby is getting enough breast milk or formula while still nursing at your breast.
Is there a specific timeline parents should track when it comes to their baby’s healthy weight?
Generally, full-term newborn babies lose weight for about the first 3-5 days after being born before starting to gain. Typical newborn weight gain is about 30-35 grams per day. The baby’s primary care provider will be following the baby’s weight and looking for him or her to be back to birth weight by about 2 weeks of age.
In Some Cases Supplementation May Be Needed
While some weight loss in the initial week of a child’s life can be normal, it’s very important that people start to discuss the fact that sometimes it is necessary to supplement a newborn’s feed with formula. There are so many reasons why a woman might have low or late milk supply, but the baby still needs to eat, even if the mother intends to breastfeed.
Unfortunately, the ‘breast is best’ dialogue doesn’t leave much room for these complicated scenarios. If a baby has lost more than 10% of their birth weight, it is dangerous to continue to attempt to breastfeed as their only source of nutrition. While many breastfeeding enthusiasts insist that a baby will bounce back once the milk comes in, the situation can quickly get out of hand if you have a severely dehydrated or undernourished baby.
If you are bringing your first child home with intentions of breastfeeding, you should still have a box of formula on hand in the event that your baby needs it. This isn’t to discourage you from your breastfeeding intentions, but it does bring peace of mind to know that if your baby needs a little boost, it’s available.
In some hospitals, nurses offer formula ‘supplements’ to newborns if a parent requests them. Though many other birthing centers still advocate for exclusive breastfeeding, the choice should be made by the parent (including the choice to not breastfeed at all!)
The shame and lack of support surrounding non-breastfeeding (or mixed feeding) exacerbate the risks for newborn dehydration and malnourishment since a mother is less likely to visit a doctor if she feels personally responsible for her child’s inability to feed.–
When a baby is born, parents are also born. With this new role comes new skills and capabilities, and one of them is a parental instinct. If you feel uncomfortable or worried about your baby’s weight, follow through and make a phone call to your pediatrician or midwife.
It’s better to be over vigilant in the first few weeks of your baby’s life than under vigilant. If you are super stressed as you try to breastfeed and your baby is clearly not getting fed, open the dialogue about formula. Having an inconsolable, hungry baby on your hands can be a very big stress for a new mom, and can lead to feelings of discouragement and despair. Feed your baby, whatever that means for you! Forget the judgments of others. At the end of the day, navigating the early weeks of parenthood can be really tough. Stay calm and alert. Do not mind the judgements of others. Do what is best for you and your family. That is what matters.
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