When it comes to trying to figure out if your baby is getting enough milk, it is important to be aware of what the reliable signs and unreliable signs of adequate milk intake are.
Unfortunately, there are times when a baby is showing reliable signs of getting enough milk but unreliable signs are relied upon.
This may lead to unnecessary formula supplementation and subsequent lowering of a mother’s milk supply.
Here are 5 of the most common unreliable signs that your baby is getting enough milk.
Unreliable Sign #1: Baby Takes More Milk From A Bottle After A Breastfeed
Many babies find sucking very pleasurable. Being hungry is only one reason why babies like to suck. They may also want to suck if they are tired or have some pain etc.
Also, when something (e.g. a dummy, a finger or a bottle teat) is inserted into a young baby’s mouth, their instinct is to suck.
When a baby sucks at the breast, they are in control of how much they drink. They can suck in a way where they are swallowing the milk (nutritive sucking) or they can suck in a way where they aren’t actually swallowing the milk (non-nutritive sucking). They can also be at the breast and not suck at all or they can just come off.
So, no matter how many times a breastfed baby breastfeeds or for whatever reason, they will remain in control of their intake.
On the other hand, when a baby drinks from a bottle, they cannot suck in a non-nutritive way. A firm bottle teat in a baby’s mouth provides a strong stimulus for a baby to suck and when they suck, they get milk whether they need the milk or not. The relatively fast and continuous flow of milk from the bottle means the baby has to keep sucking or else be flooded with milk.
In these ways, a baby may drink more milk from a bottle after a breastfeed, even if they are getting enough milk from breastfeeding alone. Hence, a baby drinking more milk from a bottle after a breastfeed is an unreliable sign to assess if your baby is getting enough milk.
Unreliable Sign #2: How Your Breasts Feel
In the early weeks, it's normal for a mother’s beasts to make more milk than what her baby is drinking. At this time, many mothers feel that their breasts can feel full (and sometimes sore).
After the early weeks — by around 6 weeks for most mothers — a mother’s supply usually settles down to be in sync with how much her baby is drinking. At this time, most mothers find that their breasts feel comparatively soft and comfortable. Many mothers also feel their let-down reflex less strongly than what they may have in the early weeks. All this is completely normal.
Hence, how your breasts feel is an unreliable sign to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
Unreliable Sign #3: How Much You Can — Or Cannot — Express
Babies are much better at extracting milk from your breasts than a pump, and expressing is a skill that needs practice. Even with practice there are some mothers who have a hearty supply but who find expressing hard.
Also, babies drink varying amounts of breastmilk at each feed and the volume of milk a mother’s breasts make varies throughout the day. Most mothers find that they make larger volumes of milk in the morning as compared to later in the day. This is completely normal. The late afternoon/early evening is the time of the day when many babies are unsettled and cluster feed. So if a mother judges her overall supply by the volume of milk she expresses later in the day as compared to in the morning, she may be more worried (either way is unreliable though).
Also, if a mother was to express straight after her baby breastfed versus just before her baby breastfed, the volumes are likely to be very different too.
Hopefully it's now clear that how much you can or cannot express is an unreliable sign as to whether your baby is getting enough milk.
Unreliable Sign #4: Your Baby’s Behaviour
It is normal for young babies (under the age of about 3 months) to have one or two unsettled periods every 24 hours. During unsettled periods, babies tend to cry a lot, sleep very little (if at all) and feed more frequently (or cluster feed).
These unsettled periods tend to peak at around 6 weeks and then tend to ease off from around 2 months and then are pretty much non-existent after 3 months.
In addition, some babies may have a food sensitivity, reflux, lactose overload, colic, secondary lactose intolerance or just be a ‘high-needs’ baby. Such babies may be even more unsettled but may still be getting enough milk.
Hence, your baby’s behaviour is also an unreliable sign to determine if your baby is getting enough milk.
Unreliable Sign #5: How Often Your Baby Feeds
Most exclusively breastfed babies feed 8-12 times every 24 hours, particularly in the early weeks.
However, research tells us that healthy and thriving breastfed babies feed anywhere between 6 and 18 times in a 24 hour period! What a range of normal!
Also, different mothers have different storage capacities. Storage capacity refers to how much milk a mother can store in her breasts between feeds. While most mothers are able to make plenty of milk for their baby (or babies), some mothers have a small storage capacity while others have a large storage capacity.
A mother with a small storage capacity often needs to feed her baby more frequently to ensure her baby gets enough milk. Meanwhile, a mother with a large storage capacity might need to feed her baby less often for her baby to get what enough milk.
Hence, how often a baby feeds, is another unreliable sign to tell if your baby is getting enough milk. The important thing is that a baby is fed according to their own individual needs by looking out for hunger cues.
If you are worried about whether your baby is getting enough milk, be sure to check out what the reliable signs are. Also, speak with your GP, child health nurse or lactation consultant.