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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.

We spend so much time fussing over whether baby is getting enough formula or breast milk—but can baby eat too much? “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. So what's best for baby? Read on to learn how overfeeding happens, how common it is and what to do going forward.

Can You Overfeed Baby?

You can probably breathe a sigh of relief: It’s almost impossible to overfeed baby, and most of the anxiety over babies’ food intake and appearance is pointless. “If 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.

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 babies turns away from the bottle or breast and refuse to even consider another nip, they're telling you they're full. When baby keeps coming back for more, she's truly hungry. (Never mind the fact that baby just finished a full six ounces!)

What Leads To Overfeeding?

Overfeeding baby is very rare, but it can happen. 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 feeding from a bottle.

So how can you tell if baby is overfed? Weight is not a good indicator of overfeeding. Spitting up could be a sign if you’ve pushed baby to take in extra food—for example, if baby spits up after draining a bottle you kept placing in his after he turned away. But more often than not, spitting up is a typical infant reaction or reflux.

You can always take a trip to your pediatrician if you're concerned. The doctor will look at baby’s length, weight and development. As long as baby is thriving, he or she’s probably doing just fine.

If you find out you have been overfeeding baby, make a point of respecting baby's cues going forward. “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,” Levine says. And don't focus 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 Other Moms Say About Overfeeding

"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 me 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.”