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HOW TO QUIT OBSESSING ABOUT BREASTFED BABY WEIGHT AND GROWTH CHARTS

Are you are a breastfeeding mom who worries about breastfed baby weight?

There is a lot of attention paid to a baby’s weight. When a baby arrives one of the first things people want to know is, “How much did the baby weigh?”

After learning the weight they may comment, “that’s big!” or perhaps, “oh, so tiny!” It seems that you almost never hear, “sounds like the perfect weight.”

As your baby grows, weight can be a source of pride or stress. Parents of a big baby will proudly proclaim that their offspring is in the 90th percentile.

Breastfeeding moms often feel extra pressure that their baby gain enough weight. Stress about breastfed baby weight is real. After reading this you should feel more confident about the number on the scale and those growth charts and percentiles.

African-american baby lying on a scale

BREASTFED BABY WEIGHT STRESS

A breastfed baby’s weight can be a significant source of stress for a new mom. If your breastfed baby is a slow grower or not gaining enough it is easy to obsess about how much weight she has gained and where she is on the growth charts.

Moms love to weigh their babies.

I have a scale at the breastfeeding group that I facilitate. The moms use it every time they come to the group. Every single time.

Some moms will come just to weigh their baby. Some of those babies are huge!

Moms still want to know how much their baby weighs. They want that reassurance that he is gaining.

Caucasian baby dressed in pink and red outfit on scale

Questions about breastfed baby growth are some of the most common questions I get at my breastfeeding group.

  • What does the average breastfed baby weight gain?
  • Is my baby gaining enough?
  • Is my breastfed baby gaining too much weight?
  • My baby is here on the breastfeeding growth chart, is that good?
  • He didn’t gain as much this week as he did last week, should I supplement him with formula?
  • The doctor says my breastfed baby not gaining enough weight, and want me to supplement him with formula, but I don’t want to do that, what are my alternatives?

The questions about breastfeeding and weight gain are endless.

caucasian baby smiling and sitting on a scale with a doctor behind him

It is true that weight is an important marker. However, always “look” at your baby first.

  • Is he reaching his developmental milestones?
  • Is he alert and interactive?
  • Do his thighs have rolls upon rolls and does he have three double chins?
  • What are his other measurements, especially head circumference?

DON’T FEAR THE BABY SCALE

When it comes to weight, there seem to be two things that can make a mom beam with pride, or strike fear in her heart.

  • The baby scale
  • The growth curve chart, which is sometimes referred to as breastfed weight gain chart.

NORMAL WEIGHT GAIN FOR BREASTFED BABY

  • Most babies will lose weight in the first few days after birth.
    • Up to ten percent weight loss is considered within normal limits.
    • A thorough evaluation of breastfeeding is a good idea at seven percent weight loss.
  • A baby should start gaining weight after her mom’s milk comes in.
    • The milk usually comes in at 48-72 hours after the birth.
  • A breastfed baby should be back to her birth weight by two weeks of age.
  • Once the milk is in, baby should gain 5-7 ounces per week.
  • 5-7 ounces per week is the average weight gain for the first three months.
  • From 4-6 months 3-5 ounces per week is the average weight gain.
  • From 6-12 months a breastfed baby gains 1-2 ounces per week on average.
  • Babies typically double their birth weight by 5-6 months
  • They triple birth weight by 1 year
baby in a diaper bending over and restingg her head on the ground

CONSISTENCY OF WEIGHT GAIN

  • It is expected that your baby will grow at a consistent rate in the first 2-3 months.
  • By about 3 months it is common for weight gain to become less consistent.
    • Your baby may not gain as much or even gain anything at all one week, and then he will make up for it a week or two later.

SHOULD YOU GET A SCALE TO WEIGHT BABY AT HOME?

In most situations I don’t recommend getting a home baby scale.

There are times though when a home baby scale can be helpful.

  • If you are concerned about your baby’s weight gain and you don’t live close to your doctor’s.
  • If you are concerned about weight gain and you have to pay a high co-pay just to get a weight check.

The Health o Meter Grow With Me Scale is highly rated on Amazon and it is a reasonable price point.

A scale like this is not usually recommended for determining how much breast milk a baby is getting during breastfeeding.  Those types of scales are much more expensive. An example of a more sensitive scale would be a seca 354.

POOR WEIGHT GAIN IN BREASTFED BABY

The vast majority of the time a baby is not gaining enough weight is because they are not getting enough to eat. There can be exceptions to this, but that is not common.

worried looking baby

There can be different causes for a baby not getting enough breast milk.

BABY GROWTH CHARTS

Your baby will be weighed when he goes to the doctor’s for well-baby check-ups. Many doctors will get a weight during any visit.,  They will put this weight on a growth chart.

Breastfed babies grow at a different rate than formula fed babies (Source).

  • Breastfed babies gain weight at a slower rate in the first year.
  • After three months formula fed babies gain weight faster.
  • Babies who are formula fed experience a higher incidence of obesity (Source).

HOW TO GET ACCURATE WEIGHTS FOR YOUR BABY

  • In the first six months make sure they always weigh your baby naked,
  • A weight is most accurate when it is right before a feeding or midway between the last and the next feeding.
  • Weighing a baby with clothes or a diaper, or weighing right after a feeding, will give a weight that is higher than is the true weight.
    • When you are looking at how many ounces your baby has gained in a week or two, 3 ounces makes a significant difference.

FACTS ABOUT GROWTH CHARTS

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) growth charts are based on the growth of breastfed babies as the norm.
  • The growth charts by the CDC are based primarily on all babies in the US(Source). Because feeding method was not identified and most babies in the US are formula fed this can result in an inaccurate picture for the exclusively breastfed baby.
  • If you are breastfeeding you should ensure that a WHO breastfed babygrowth chart is what is being used to track your baby’s weight gain.
  • There are different charts for boys and girls.

There are a number of Apps that you can use if you want to have your growth chart.

I have worked with a few moms whose baby’s pediatrician said that 1/2 ounce gain per day was ok in the first few months. I charted that out and you can see what would happen to their growth curve.

GROWTH CURVES AND BABY WEIGHT PERCENTILES

It is important to remember that it’s not necessarily as important where your baby is on a growth chart. What is most important is that your baby is growing along their curve.

This is true even if their curve is below the 3rd percentile. Growth charts are based on a statistical curve. So, the reality is somebody has to be in all parts of the curve.

It seems that when a baby is at a high percentile on the growth chart, parents will often brag about it. However, it just means their baby is larger than most other babies.

It doesn’t mean their baby will be smarter, better looking, a better athlete or a nicer person. It only means they are larger than other babies their age.

It’s kind of funny. When your child is older, and certainly this is certainly true for adults, nobody thinks it’s better to weigh than average.

Parents often worry when their baby is in the lower percentile on a growth chart. I have been asked how to get a baby to gain more to move them up on the growth curve.

One mom who came to my breastfeeding group was worried because her baby had only been gaining ½ ounce per day. I just explained how that can turn out.

Her pediatrician had told her that this rate of growth was fine. This mom started feeling like it wasn’t fine. Moms usually have good instincts.

We talked about some ways to increase her baby’s intake. I recommended that she breastfeed him more often. This did result in a more average weight gain, and he did move to a higher percentile on the growth chart.

She became fixated on getting him to the 50th percentile though, and kept asking me how she could get him there. I told her, “You could force feed him, but I don’t recommend it.”

I had another mom whose baby was a slow gainer. She didn’t worry about it at all. Her baby was healthy and progressing at a developmentally appropriate rate. She didn’t worry about the weight at all. Her baby looked healthy, she was just small.

Growth charts are a reference, and a tool, that let your baby’s doctor know if your baby is growing at an average rate.

Furthermore, they are only one type of measurement that is taken. Length and head circumference, and later on, BMI, will also be measured.

baby's head being measured with a tape measure

Developmental milestones will  be assessed.

If your baby is a slow grower, step back and take a look at everything.

  • Is everything else I just mentioned increasing appropriately?
  • Is there an adequate amount of milk?
  • Is that milk made available to your baby? Rigid schedules and sleep training are really not appropriate for a slow grower.
  • Are you reading your babies cues for hunger properly?

If you are concerned about your breastfed baby not gaining weight or the rate that he is growing at I encourage you talk to a lactation consultant. She can let you know if there is a reason to be concerned.

If there is a problem, she can help you figure out what it is and how to resolve it.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON BREASTFED BABY WEIGHT AND GROWTH CHARTS

Large, average, or small, it’s your baby. He is your perfect baby. You are his perfect mom.

If you are worried whether he is growing perfectly, there is help out there.

Please share this article with your breastfeeding friends and moms who are planning to breastfeed. 

2 Comments

  1. Hmmm. This article made me feel worse about the fact that I have a big baby 🙁 I was looking for reassurance that she’s not overweight despite weighing over 8kg at not even 5 months… She is exclusively breastfed and in the 97th percentile.

  2. I’m really sorry it made you feel worse. My experience has been that a chunky breastfed baby will usually slim down when they start getting more active with crawling and walking. As long as your baby is hitting her developmental milestones and is healthy then her weight is perfect.

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