It’s one of the most common worries in new parents: how do you know if your baby is well fed? Here are your questions answered.
Breastfeeding: how much milk does a baby need?
Breastfeeding is a skill that mother and baby learn together. It is normal for it to take some practice and for it to take a while for mothers to feel confident that babies are getting the milk they need (NHS, 2018a).
In the meantime, it can be reassuring to know that a breastfed baby who is fed on demand won't overfeed (NHS, 2020). And although you can't measure how much they are drinking, they will stop drinking when they’ve had enough, and feed again if they want to stimulate your supply (NHS, 2020).
Watch our video about how to know if you’re feeding your baby in the right way.
You’ll also be able tell if they’re feeding well by checking the following…
The first type of poo your baby will produce is called meconium. It is produced from birth for the first 2-3 days, and is sticky and green/black in colour. From day four you can expect breastfed baby poo to be soft and a yellow, mustard colour. Babies who are formula feeding might have more solid poo than those who breastfeed (NHS, 2018b). Babies do an average of four poos a day for the first week.
Their wet nappies
In their first 48 hours, most babies will only have two or three wet nappies.
If you have had IV fluids during labour or if your baby was born by caesarean, this will cause extra fluids in both you and your baby, so your baby will wee more in the first 24 hours (Noel-Weiss, 2011).
But from day five, you should get at least five or six heavy, wet nappies every 24 hours. Their wee should be pale and not dark brown (UNICEF and Start4Life, 2010; UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, 2010; NHS, 2018a).
If your baby has a full tummy, they should seem healthy and alert when they're awake. They will also seem calm and relaxed while they’re breastfeeding (UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, 2010; NHS, 2018a).
It’s normal for babies to lose some weight during the first few days of life: 5-7% weight loss is considered normal. If baby loses 10% or more then this is an indicator they aren't getting enough milk. This weight loss usually stops after about 3-4 days. For most babies their weight has returned to what it was at birth by the time they are three weeks old (NICE, 2017). After that, they should be growing and putting on weight steadily (NHS, 2018a).
They will be weighed regularly (approximately once a month in the first six months) and their weight recorded in their personal child health record (PCHR) or red book (NHS, 2020).
Formula feeding or expressed milk: how much milk does a baby need?
If you’re offering your baby milk from a bottle, whether formula or expressed milk, it is recommended to respond to your baby’s signals about when they're hungry/thirsty and when they've had enough milk, unless there is a concern and your midwife or doctor has suggested otherwise (UNICEF, 2019).
Formula packaging suggests how much milk to offer, but use this as a rough guide while you're getting to know your baby because all babies are different.
Research into responsive or ‘paced’ bottle feeding suggests it can help reduce the risk of obesity. When your baby has had all the milk they want, remember to throw away any milk left in the bottle. Milk left in the bottle could become a source of infection. See more suggestions about how to bottle-feed responsively. (UNICEF, 2019).
How can I tell if breastfeeding is going well?
The following are seen as signs that breastfeeding is going well:
Your baby is well-attached if:
- they have a wide mouth
- they have a big mouthful of breast
- their chin is touching your breast
- their lower lip is rolled down (although you might not see this)
- their nose is not usually squashed against your breast (unless the mother has quite large breasts)
- your breasts or nipples are not painful when your baby’s feeding, although their first few sucks might feel strong
- more of the dark skin around your nipple (areola) is visible above your baby's lips than below them.
(UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, 2010; NICE, 2015; NHS, 2018a)
Your baby is getting enough milk if:
- their feeding starts with a few quick sucks and after that their sucks and swallows are longer and rhythmical, with a few pauses
- you see them swallow and you may hear them swallowing by around day three to four
- their cheeks are rounded when they suck, rather than hollow
- they’re calm and relaxed when they’re feeding
- they finish a feed, either by coming off the breast or falling asleep after an active feed
- they’ve got a moist mouth after they’ve fed
- they look content and satisfied after most feeds
- your breasts become softer after feeds
- your nipple looks about the same after your baby’s feeds, rather than white, flattened or pinched
- you may feel relaxed and sleepy after you’ve breastfed.
(NICE, 2015; NHS, 2016)
How do I know that my baby is thriving?
How a baby looks and their behaviour are useful guides to whether they are ‘thriving’. A thriving baby:
- has a good skin colour
- is alert when they’re awake
- asks for feeds
- is usually satisfied after feeds.
(UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, 2010)
What should I do if I don’t think I have enough milk?
Breastmilk is made on a supply and demand basis; the more milk your baby takes from your breast, the more milk you make. But the baby must be well latched on to do this. You can increase your milk supply by: (NHS 2018a)
- Feed your baby as often and as long as your baby wants
- Feed from both breasts at each feed
- Keep your baby close and give lots of skin-to-skin, particularly in the early weeks, to maximise opportunities to breastfeed
- Avoid giving your baby infant formula
- Avoid dummies until your baby has learnt how to breastfeed well
If you’re worried your baby isn’t getting enough milk, speak to your health visitor, midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor. They can check how the baby is latched and may suggest changes you can make to help your baby get a deeper latch. Your health visitor or midwife can also rule out any underlying health problems or may refer you for a tongue tie assessment (NICE, 2015).
If you need breastfeeding support you can visit a local breastfeeding support group (some support groups are available online). In some situations it may be possible to have a home visit.
You can also speak to an NCT breastfeeding counsellor on our helpline (0300 330 0700) which is open every day, 8am to midnight. You could take a look at our article about breastfeeding support page to find out more.
This page was last reviewed in November 2021.
NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk.
Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions.
You can also find more useful articles here.
National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 0212.
NHS. (2017) Your breastfeeding questions answered. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-breastfeeding-questions/ [Accessed 23 November 2021]
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NHS. (2018b) How to change your baby’s nappy. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/nappies.aspx [Accessed 23 November 2021]
NHS (2020) Your baby’s weight and height. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/babys-development/height-weight-and-reviews/baby-height-and-weight/ [accessed 23 November 2021]
NICE. (2021) NICE Clinical Guideline 37: Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37 [Accessed 23 November 2021]
NICE (2017) NICE Guideline NG75 Faltering growth: recognition and management of faltering growth in children Available at https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng75/chapter/recommendations [accessed 23 November 2021]
Noel-Weiss J, Woodend AK, Peterson WE, Gibb W Groll D, (2011) An observational study of associations among maternal fluids during parturition, neonatal output, and breastfed newborn weight loss. International Breastfeeding Journal 6:9, http://www.internationalbreastfeedingjournal.com/content/6/1/ [Accessed 2 Dec 21]
Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3174114/pdf/1746-4358-6-9.pdf [accessed 2 December 2021]
Thulier, D. (2016) Weighing the Facts: A Systematic Review of Expected Patterns of Weight Loss in Full-Term, Breastfed Infants. Journal of Human Lactation 32:(1). Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0890334415597681#articleCitationDownloadContainer] [Accessed 23 November 2021]]
UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative. (2010) Breastfeeding checklist for mothers. How can I tell that breastfeeding is going well? Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/10/mothers_breastfeeding_checklist.pdf [Accessed 23 November 2021]
UNICEF; Start4Life. (2010) Off to the best start: important information about feeding your baby. Department of Health. Available from: https://www.stgeorges.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/of_to_the_best_start.pdf [Accessed 23 November 2021]
UNICEF. (2019) Infant formula and responsive bottle feeding: A guide for parents. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/bottle-feeding-resources/infant-formula-responsive-bottle-feeding-guide-for-parents/ [Accessed 23 November 2021]