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Why CAN'T you overfeed a BFed baby?
Just curious


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33 replies to this topic

#1 runnybabbit

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:06 PM

I've heard it said so many times that you can't overfeed a breastfed baby, but why is that? If the baby is sucking for comfort rather than nutrition, and gets extra calories incidentally, might that not lead to overfeeding? If a formula fed baby can be given too many calories by being given more milk, can't a breastfed baby be given too many calories as well?

Just curious -- it's what my husband and I were mulling over at stupid o'clock. wink.gif

#2 cinnabubble

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:12 PM

Breastfed babies may nom on the nipple a bit, but they tend not to extract and ingest milk when sucking for comfort.

#3 FeralAlpacasFool

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:12 PM

I don't know about extra calories, but until last week, whenever DD2 was crying or upset I BF her, which was about every 2-2.5 hours during the day. She is 5 mo, and turns out all the feeding was causing her to get tummy pains, and to cry, and then I fed her again and so the cycle continued. She now feeds every 3-4 hours and has been settled, sleeping during the day and much happier. So in our case, yes you can overfeed a BF baby.

#4 Comrade Borgia

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:15 PM

Well...and I should warn you....this theory isn't popular on EB...but according to the hospital Paed who I saw after DS2 was born - you can.....he reckoned DS 2 was comfort sucking, was getting too much of the lactose rich fore milk as a result, and that was making him colicky and windy.  The Paed told me to retry a dummy (he wouldn't have a bar of it) and failing that, a bottle of cooled boiled water...NOT for hydration, but to satisfy his sucking reflex without letting him take in the milk when he didn't need it....

TBH, I tried the bottle of cooled water a couple of nights, I don't think DS ever took to it, the colicky issues resolved, he continued to cluster feed in the evenings.....I don't really know if the Paed was on the money with his advice....but you did ask!



#5 Just Another Cat

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:20 PM

QUOTE (cinnabubble @ 25/01/2013, 10:12 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Breastfed babies may nom on the nipple a bit, but they tend not to extract and ingest milk when sucking for comfort.


I think this is true. Also, it's much easier for a baby to get milk from a bottle

Plus some parents keep persisting with feeding even though the baby is full just because there is milk left in the bottle.

#6 Feral_Pooks

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:20 PM

You can over feed them. It's not as easy as with a ff baby but yes, you certainly can. I was at the LC once and another woman there had so much milk, that came out so fast, that her son was coughing and spluttering and throwing up some excess, and had tummy pain. I, on the other hand, couldn't get enough milk into my baby. We joked that she could have fed them both. In eras gone by, perhaps it would have been a good solution!

#7 libbylu

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:25 PM

Perhaps in the short term a baby might overfeed if they are doing a lot of comfort sucking, but I think over the long term it tends to even out.
I guess the saying comes from looking at babies weights - breastfeeding doesn't tend to create obese infants but occasionally bottle feeding can, but this might be more about parent behaviour than baby behaviour - not sure.  Perhaps some parents are encouraging the baby to finish off the bottle when they don't really want it.  I reckon there is some kind of built in desire in mothers to see their kid 'finish off' what is on their plate and I guess this might extend to the bottle as well.  It obviously can't extend to the breast as you can't see what they are taking.

#8 Feral_Pooks

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:30 PM

Yes I had a mum in my mothers group who would spend 2 hours trying to get her baby to finish her bottle (ew), I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. I think the stats for weights get skewed by this kind of behaviour. I think there needs to be more education about how to bottle feed, like with this sort of thing and with the flow of the teats, not feeding baby lying down.

#9 *mylittleprince*

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:30 PM

I used to believe this but I think you can. If you misinterpret their hungry cues and use boob for everything, then maybe you can overfeed?

I have 15 week old twins which are exclusively breastfed. I feed them both when one wakes or is hungry. My girl twin is usually the one who wakes to feed and is hungrier before her brother. My boy twin coudl probably do with less feeds but the nights that I've fed her and left him sleeping, he's woken up a little while later and then I've been up all night. He weighs more as a twin baby than my other son at the same age! (He is 15 weeks old and around 7.5kg).

#10 Starletta

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:32 PM

QUOTE (Pooks_ @ 25/01/2013, 10:30 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Yes I had a mum in my mothers group who would spend 2 hours trying to get her baby to finish her bottle (ew), I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. I think the stats for weights get skewed by this kind of behaviour. I think there needs to be more education about how to bottle feed, like with this sort of thing and with the flow of the teats, not feeding baby lying down.


Ugh my daughter is like this. She hates eating, I swear!

#11 EBeditor

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:38 PM

Maybe it's because there is a finite amount of milk your breasts can produce in one sitting? So if baby is comfort sucking when teething or sick, they will only be getting a very small amount of milk until the supply has built up again.

#12 lucky 2

Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:39 PM

QUOTE (runnybabbit @ 25/01/2013, 10:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I've heard it said so many times that you can't overfeed a breastfed baby, but why is that? If the baby is sucking for comfort rather than nutrition, and gets extra calories incidentally, might that not lead to overfeeding? If a formula fed baby can be given too many calories by being given more milk, can't a breastfed baby be given too many calories as well?

Just curious -- it's what my husband and I were mulling over at stupid o'clock. wink.gif


It isn't just the type of milk that is different (ie formula vs breast milk) but the method of delivery. A baby can overfeed with a bottle, and that could be breast milk or formula. But at the breast a baby will come off, you can't force a baby to stay on the breast but you can push a baby to "just drink a little more" with a bottle (if you felt so inclined).
Formula fed babies apparently have a higher risk of developing adolescant obesity.

So I don't think you can over feed a bf baby as such, ie baby comes off the breast and on, it is consentual.
But, a pp mentioned what is often called a lactose overload or imbalance, when baby is drinking frequently and not draining one breast well (not they are drained anyway, at most feeds a baby removes approximately 67% of what was stored) and tending to ingest milk with a high lactose amount, this causes water to move into the bowel and can lead to squirty yellow poos (sometimes > 10 each 24 hrs) and a frequently feeding and unsettled baby, uncomfortable belly.
A way to manage this is not to give a bottle of water, the use of the dummy can be helpful but what often helps is putting baby back to the 1st breast if baby wants more milk soon after a feed, to help remove milk from one breast before moving on to the 2nd.
I think overfeeding is not a term that suits bfing well, it's more that the pattern or manner of bfing can sometimes make a baby feel upset or troubled, with lactose overload mums also can experience breasts that are overfull and uncomfortable/oversupply so it can negatively impact both mother and baby.

#13 bjk76

Posted 25 January 2013 - 10:33 PM

Like a couple of PPs, I overfed DS when he was a few weeks old. - He had only ever fed to sleep and then he stopped feeding to sleep, so I kept feeding him to try to get him to go to sleep, then he got a sore tummy from too much milk, so wanted to keep sucking and then ended up with a sorer tummy.... You get the picture!

I started walking him to sleep from then on and a MCHN told me not to feed him more than every 2.5 hours, so that's what I did for the next few months. He'd generally feed about every 3 hours, unless he was having his long overnight sleep. He did a lot of growing between 3 and 5 months and was at his 'skinniest' (although still had rolls of fat on his limbs) and only pooed once a week, so I guess he needed to be fed that often.

#14 Amberlily

Posted 25 January 2013 - 10:56 PM

It's also probably got something to do with the flow from a breast slowing down as the breast empties, so the baby has to work harder and harder to get more milk. (This assumes that the baby is having well spaced "long" / boob draining feeds). Whereas a bottle will have the same flow (same teat same size hole) for the full duration of a feed...

So a breast fed baby will find it harder to overfeed (than a bottle fed baby) unless they "snack" feed (lots of little short feeds). Which ends up with the foremilk issues PPs have mentioned.

#15 runnybabbit

Posted 27 January 2013 - 08:19 PM

Thank you everyone for your input! So if I'm assessing the consensus correctly, generally an "overfed" BFed baby would be one with fore/hindmilk imbalance? What if the mum was offering the same side until that breast was relatively empty? Could you get a baby doing nice yellow poos but "too much" in terms of caloric intake?

I guess I'm a little confused because my four-week-old hasn't been a great sleeper and I've been using boob, boob, boob to settle. I don't think he's ever really HUNGRY as a result, if he is he certainly hides his hunger signs well. But I've been offering the same side over and over again (also to deal with engorgement earlier on) so poos have still been nice and yellow. I don't think he's gone more than 2.5 hours without a feed since day 3. :/ He's also stacking on weight -- 500 g/week over the past two weeks. I mean, I know babies don't gain weight linearly and it's silly to worry about a four-week-old being obese; it just got me wondering about the "BFed babies can't be overfed" adage and how much truth there was to it.

#16 purplekitty

Posted 27 January 2013 - 08:33 PM

In my personal experience it's possible if you have a large milk supply and a strong letdown.
I had two little chubbies who put on large amounts of weight being breastfed exclusively until they started to walk.
My paediatrician with my first even went to get another pair of scales because she couldn't believe the weight gain.
I don't know how to counter it.I did introduce a dummy for comfort sucking.
My doctors were never worried but I wonder about it.

#17 greenthumbs

Posted 29 January 2013 - 09:41 AM

I only have my own experience to draw from.

DS was (and still is) a big feeder. He cluster fed every night for hours. I fed him to sleep, co-slept so he snacked often overnight. If he cried or pretty much made a peep, I fed him.

Looking at photos, he looked really bloated at about 5-8 weeks, but he wasn't, just content and ready for a growth spurt. He was never overweight, and always weighed less than his friends who were ff.

I always started a feed with the breast he last fed from (unless the other one desperately needed it). I would tend to agree with pp who suggest there's only so much storage in the breast. Also, you just cannot force a baby to take the breast. They might latch on for comfort or out of habit, but will very quickly drop off (in my experience anyway).

I would also be very hesitant to limit feeds as it could mess with the supply or even cause problems with blockages etc.

Congrats on your new bub!

#18 HRH Countrymel

Posted 29 January 2013 - 09:47 AM

Try not to stress about it... my mother was a breastfeeding counsellor for many, many years.. it is nigh on impossible to overfeed a breastfed baby..

However may I present 'exhibit a'?

Not 'over' fed but 'well' fed you will have to agree!





*that is me in the hat btw.

Edited by countrymel, 29 January 2013 - 09:53 AM.


#19 CharliMarley

Posted 29 January 2013 - 09:53 AM

The ABA have researched this question in great length and you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby. When they comfort suck, they don't really get much milk as they only lightly suck away until they fall asleep - maybe. Paeds and doctors don't know enough about breastfeeding and they need to go to some breastfeeding education classes, which the ABA have for the professionals.

#20 Milamum09

Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:08 AM

QUOTE (countrymel @ 29/01/2013, 07:47 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Try not to stress about it... my mother was a breastfeeding counsellor for many, many years.. it is nigh on impossible to overfeed a breastfed baby..

However may I present 'exhibit a'?

Not 'over' fed but 'well' fed you will have to agree!





*that is me in the hat btw.


Awww you were so gorgeous CountryMel!!!

#21 lucky 2

Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:26 AM

You look so healthy and vibrant mel, gorgeous picture, thanks for posting original.gif .

#22 Tesseract

Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:29 AM

QUOTE (runnybabbit @ 27/01/2013, 09:19 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Thank you everyone for your input! So if I'm assessing the consensus correctly, generally an "overfed" BFed baby would be one with fore/hindmilk imbalance? What if the mum was offering the same side until that breast was relatively empty? Could you get a baby doing nice yellow poos but "too much" in terms of caloric intake?

I guess I'm a little confused because my four-week-old hasn't been a great sleeper and I've been using boob, boob, boob to settle. I don't think he's ever really HUNGRY as a result, if he is he certainly hides his hunger signs well. But I've been offering the same side over and over again (also to deal with engorgement earlier on) so poos have still been nice and yellow. I don't think he's gone more than 2.5 hours without a feed since day 3. :/ He's also stacking on weight -- 500 g/week over the past two weeks. I mean, I know babies don't gain weight linearly and it's silly to worry about a four-week-old being obese; it just got me wondering about the "BFed babies can't be overfed" adage and how much truth there was to it.


At birth we all have innate appetite control. Babies feeding exclusively from the breast maintain this control. If they need milk, they drink it; if they need comfort, they comfort suck. Yes they might get a bit of milk while comfort sucking, but they will either throw it up (this is what DD used to do) or they will have less later - over say a 24 hour period they are perfectly regulated. Hence the saying "you can't overfeed a breastfed baby". (As an aside, maintaining innate appetite control is the motivation behind baby-led weaning - the baby remains completely in control of intake so overeating does not become a habit.)

The foremilk/hindmilk issue is something different. Even it is not strictly 'overfeeding' more a supply issue. If you have this issue you will know about it. I always feed 4+ sides a feed because DD was extremely fussy on the breast and switching calmed her down - I never had a foremilk/hindmilk problem. So others reading this please don't get too concerned about keeping baby on one side etc - if your baby and your breasts are healthy then it's all going fine, only look into this if you are having issues with green poo, oversupply etc.

Runnyrabbit - your baby sounds completely normal. It's FANTASTIC and entirely appropriate that your baby is never ravenously hungry. That is how it is meant to work. Little babies need very frequent small feeds - this is how they are designed. Small, frequent feeds supply their growing brain in the way nature intended. They are designed to want boob all the time (for comfort, sleep as well as hunger) because they need the frequent feeding. Have you also thought that maybe you are already so well attuned to him that you feed him intuitively - almost like you know when he needs it even before he does?

DD also had big weight gain early on - when she was born she was 50th% for weight, by 4 months she was 90th%, oh those fat rolls on her thighs! Very rapid weight gain that then evens out a little is extremely common in breastfed babies. She is now a tall and lean toddler. Letting your baby control his intake by feeding him whenever he needs it (which is often) is the best way to prevent obesity because he maintains his innate appetite control.

Sounds like things are going perfectly for you, he's not eating too much.

#23 Feral-as-Meggs

Posted 29 January 2013 - 12:51 PM

QUOTE (countrymel @ 29/01/2013, 10:47 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Try not to stress about it... my mother was a breastfeeding counsellor for many, many years.. it is nigh on impossible to overfeed a breastfed baby..

However may I present 'exhibit a'?

Not 'over' fed but 'well' fed you will have to agree!





*that is me in the hat btw.


So glad I clicked on this thread  biggrin.gif

#24 purplekitty

Posted 29 January 2013 - 01:14 PM

QUOTE (Winterdanceparty @ 29/01/2013, 09:53 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The ABA have researched this question in great length and you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby. When they comfort suck, they don't really get much milk as they only lightly suck away until they fall asleep - maybe. Paeds and doctors don't know enough about breastfeeding and they need to go to some breastfeeding education classes, which the ABA have for the professionals.
If you have an unlimited milk supply and a strong letdown they still get a lot of milk.
I know this might be rare but it is possible.

I found the ABA unhelpful because my experience wasn't common.
I could fill a bottle from the breast that I wasn't feeding from (not expressing from it)and both breasts would be full again by  the next feed.

This is really OT and I don't know whether it is relevant to the OP or not but I found it really hard going to get advice when people didn't understand exactly how large a supply can be.


Countrymel. original.gif
My son had such "condition "on his wrists at 12 months it took 90mins and an ever increasing number of staff to get an IV line in his wrist.


#25 HRH Countrymel

Posted 29 January 2013 - 01:22 PM

QUOTE (meggs1 @ 29/01/2013, 01:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
So glad I clicked on this thread  biggrin.gif


Wasn't my Mum gorgeous?  
She's 41 in that photo and sucking on a mint, on a boat, with a massive fat baby on her lap and she still looks gorgeous...!





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