baby feeding

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?

If you’re panicking that you’re not producing enough breast milk for your baby in the early days of feeding, try not to worry. It is normal for you to take a while to feel confident that your baby’s getting what they need (NHS, 2016).

In the meantime, it can be reassuring to know that a breastfed baby who’s fed on demand can't be overfed (NHS, 2017). And although you can't measure how much they are drinking, they will come off your breast when they’ve had enough, and ask for more if they want to stimulate your supply (NHS, 2017).

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…

Their poo

Meconium is the type of poo your baby will do on days one to two, it’s sticky and green/black. After that, newborns should do at least two soft, yellow, £2 coin-sized poos every day for the first few weeks of their lives (UNICEF and Start4Life, 2010). Babies who are formula feeding might have more solid poo than those who breastfeed (NHS, 2015).

Their wet nappies

In their first 48 hours, your baby will probably only have two or three wet nappies. 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, 2016).

Their behaviour

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, 2016).

Weight gain

It’s normal for babies to lose some of their birth weight in the first two weeks (NHS, 2016). Losing up to 5% to 7% of their body weight in the first two weeks is considered normal but it can be more or less than that (Noel-Weiss et al, 2008; Thulier, 2016). After that, they should be growing and putting on weight steadily (NHS, 2016).

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, try and 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 and you can use this as a rough guide while you're getting to know your baby. 

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. See more suggestions about how to bottle-feed responsively. (UNICEF, 2019).

How can I tell if breastfeeding is going well?

The following signs are seen as signs that breastfeeding is going well:

Your baby’s 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 squashed against your breast
  • 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, 2016)

Your baby’s 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 can 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 come off the breast on their own when they’ve finished a 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 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?

If you’re worried your baby isn’t getting enough, speak to your health visitor, midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor. They can rule out any problems like a tongue tie, and look at attachment, positioning and your baby’s health (NICE, 2015).

Breastfeeding specialists are likely to come and see you, or you can visit a breastfeeding support group. You could take a look at our article about breastfeeding support page to find out more.

This page was last reviewed in September 2017.

Further information

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. (2015) How to change your baby’s nappy. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/nappies.aspx [Accessed 1st  September 2017]

NHS. (2016) Breastfeeding: is my baby getting enough milk? Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/breastfeeding-is-baby-getting-enough-milk.aspx [Accessed 1st  September 2017]

NHS. (2017) Your breastfeeding questions answered. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-breastfeeding-questions/ [Accessed 1st  September 2017]

NICE. (2015) NICE Clinical Guideline 37: Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37 [Accessed 1st  September 2017]

Noel-Weiss J, Courant G, Woodend, AK. (2008) Physiological weight loss in the breastfed neonate: a systematic review. Open Medicine, 2(4):e99–e110. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091615/] [Accessed 1st  September 2017]

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 1st  September 2017]

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 1st  September 2017]

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 1st  September 2017]

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 25 February 2020]

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