Account & More
Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

How To Tell If You're Overfeeding Baby

Many moms worry about baby getting enough to eat, but some actually wonder if they could be overdoing it. Here’s how to know.

Can baby be overfed?

“Different cultures have different feelings about how much a baby should eat, how often they should eat and what they should look like,” says Alanna Levine, MD, a pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York. Some parents consider a roly-poly baby a sign of a job well done. Other parents see a round baby and visualize an obese teen.

But most of the anxiety over babies’ food intake and appearance is pointless. “If your baby is gaining weight and growing and your pediatrician isn’t concerned, you don't need to worry,” Levine says. Different babies grow at different rates and eat different amounts at different times.

Besides, it’s almost impossible to overfeed a baby. Babies come with an incredibly sophisticated self-regulation system: When they’re hungry, they eat. When they’re full, they stop. (Sadly, we’ve lost this mechanism by the time we become parents.) So when baby turns away from the bottle or breast, and refuses to even consider another nip, he or she is telling you he or she is full. When he or she keeps coming back for more, he or she's truly hungry. (Never mind the fact that baby just finished a full six ounces!)

How would I know if I was overfeeding baby?

Baby’s weight is not a good indicator of overfeeding. Spitting up may indicate overfeeding if you’ve pushed baby to take in extra food—if, for instance, baby spits up after draining a bottle you kept placing in his or her mouth after he or she turned away. But more often than not, spitting up is a typical infant reaction or reflux.

If I take baby to the doctor, what will they check for?

A doctor will look at baby’s length, weight and development. As long as baby is thriving, he or she’s probably doing just fine.

How common is it to overfeed a baby?

Very uncommon. Most babies refuse to feed when he or she's full.

When it happens, what causes overfeeding?

Overfeeding is more common in bottle-fed babies, simply because it’s easier to see (and obsess over) how much milk went in during a feeding. It also takes less effort to drink from a bottle, so babies—who love to suck—may inadvertently get too much milk while sucking on a bottle.

I found out I've been overfeeding baby. What should I do now?

“Respect your baby’s cues,” Levine says. “If baby turns away before the bottle is finished or before your usual nursing time is up, accept the fact that he or she may not be hungry now.”

What can I do to prevent overfeeding?

Stop feeding baby when he or she turns away. And stop focusing on the numbers! It doesn’t matter how many ounces baby finishes at a feed. What matters is that baby is healthy, happy and thriving.

What do other moms say about overfeeding?

“So my baby is generally pretty easygoing. When she cries, it means something is wrong—she very rarely fusses for no reason. This has led my husband and I to overfeed her on the rare occasions that she is fussy. Here’s what happens: Baby seems inconsolable. She screams and nothing makes her happy. Check diaper, do all her favorite rocking, bring her outside, nothing. Finally decide to give her a little more milk even though she's already eaten, and she calms down right away while drinking. Next time she fusses, we give her a little gripe water. And then? Milk vomit explosion! All over one of us.”

“I had to talk to [baby’s day care] director about how breast milk is different from formula and I wasn't going to send bigger bottles. Period. I send 8 ounces with him. He's there about seven hours and usually is fed shortly before my husband picks him up. I drop him off at day care at 11 a.m. and get home around 8:30 p.m. and he eats 9.5 to 10 ounces while I'm gone.”