Are you comparing your baby’s adorable little cheeks with the chubby cheeks of the baby in the aisle at the grocery, outside your pediatrician’s office, and on the cover of every parenting magazine you spot? And are you wondering if they’re getting enough to eat and how to help your baby gain weight?
Many parents do. But here’s what you need to remember: over the first few days after your baby is born, they’ll lose some weight. In fact, it’s expected. A formula-fed baby loses about
By the end of 2 weeks, most babies will have regained this weight. And by the end of the first year, you’ll probably notice that your baby has tripled their weight. Way to gain!
But let’s say that you don’t want to play the waiting game. Or that you’re still looking at the chubby cheeks of every baby that rolls past you. What can you do to help your baby gain weight?
If you feel that your baby isn’t gaining weight, your first step is to seek guidance from your pediatrician and, possibly, a board certified lactation consultant.
They can work with you to chart your baby’s growth against average growth charts to see where they stand. Make sure that they’re referring to the
These are also the charts the CDC recommends for ages 0 to 2 years and are the ones used by pediatricians in the United States.
Most probably, they’ll put your mind at ease. Each baby is unique but should follow their own growth curve.
0 to 3 months
Growth expectations: From birth to 3 months, you can expect your baby to grow 1/2 to 1 inch (about 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters) per month. They’ll probably gain 5 to 7 ounces (about 140 to 200 grams) per week. Yup, that’s why those newborn onesies don’t last long.
Feeding expectations: If you’re breastfeeding your baby, figure on feeding them every
If you’re formula feeding your baby, figure on 1 to 2 ounces of infant formula every 2 to 3 hours for those first few days. The time between feedings will get longer (3 to 4 hours) as your baby’s tummy grows and can hold more formula at each feeding.
3 to 7 months
Growth expectations: As your baby approaches the 3-month milestone, their weight gain will slow down a little. You’ll probably see an increase of about 4 ounces a week (110 grams). At 5 months (or sooner), you can throw a party, because your baby will likely have doubled their weight.
Feeding expectations: Some babies may show an interest in solid food at around 4 months, but best practice is to wait until the 6-month marker to introduce it to your baby. Despite what you’ve heard about starting with fruit puree, you may want to start with meat. Read about it here.
7 to 12 months
Growth expectations: Your baby is now gaining about 3 to 5 ounces (85 to 140 grams) a week. That works out to be about 2 pounds (900 grams) a month. By the time you celebrate that first birthday, your baby will probably have tripled their birth weight.
Feeding expectations: You now have a little guest at the table at mealtimes. Have fun (and get a chance to eat your own meal) by offering your baby finger foods so that they can feed themselves. Make sure to watch out for choking hazards!
Whether you’re breastfeeding or offering formula, your baby should still be drinking most of their calories through the end of the first year.
Some babies have a hard time eating and just can’t seem to keep up when it comes to weight gain. Reach out to your pediatrician if you feel that your baby has difficulty swallowing, vomits between feeds, seems to have a food allergy, has reflux, or has ongoing diarrhea.
These issues could prevent your baby from absorbing the calories that they need. Once you’ve canceled out these possibilities, if you and your baby’s pediatrician decide it is necessary, you can find the right strategy to work towards that coveted weight gain.
Remember, if your pediatrician feels comfortable with your baby’s current weight gain and can show you their appropriate growth curve, trust in the fact you and your baby are doing fine and no changes are needed.
Trying to increase a baby’s weight gain when it’s not needed can increase the risk of unhealthy feeding and eating behaviors and unhealthy weight gain later on.
If you’re breastfeeding:
What would you do to see those squishy rolls on your baby’s arms and legs and know the credit goes to your milk supply? Probably quite a bit. But some babies just don’t gain the same way. What can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
- Practice, practice, practice: Nursing a baby is an art that has to be learned. You weren’t born knowing how to hold a paintbrush any more than you were born knowing how to breastfeed. Reach out to a lactation counselor who can check if your baby is latching on correctly, has a condition that’s making it hard to feed at the breast, or needs some waking up.
- Boost your milk supply: If you worry that your milk supply isn’t sufficient to meet your baby’s demands, relax. Most moms have this fear. To increase your milk supply keep your baby close by, nurse every hour or two, and try to rest up. The more you feed the more there is to feed.
If you’re formula feeding:
After the first couple of months, formula-fed babies typically gain more weight faster than breastfed babies. But what happens if your formula-fed baby isn’t thriving?
- Consider changing formula: If your baby shows signs of a sensitivity or allergy to the formula you’re using, you may want to try changing brands or getting breast milk from a milk bank. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby is experiencing signs of reflux, eczema, diarrhea, constipation, or other issues. They may suggest using donor milk or protein-hydrolysate based formula. Since this type of formula is costly, it’s only suggested for babies who have an allergy to cow or soy milk.
- Ensure your formula is mixed correctly: Following the mixing instructions on your formula is very important. The right balance of water to powder is essential. Too much water may mean that your baby doesn’t get adequate calories and can be dangerous.
- Talk to your provider: Before adding anything to your baby’s bottles, like more formula or rice cereal, it’s important to consult with the pediatrician. They can advise you of what is safe and healthy for your baby.
If you’re feeding solids:
You’ve passed the 6-month milestone and you’ve introduced your baby to solids, but they’re not gaining weight as you’d hoped. After you’ve introduced single-ingredient foods safely and have a chance to incorporate more flavors you can fit in some additional calories and fats.
Here are some suggestions on how to increase your baby’s weight:
- Add healthy fats: Olive oil and avocado are packed with both calories and health benefits. The oleic acid in both may reduce inflammation, plus you get some of those omega3 fats that are oh-so-good for the brain.
- Opt for meats with more calories: Pork, chicken legs, and ground turkey are high-calorie choices.
- Offer full-fat dairy products: Add grated cheese to soups or sprinkle it over rice and pasta to add the calories you’re looking for. Look for full-fat yogurts but skip the ones laden with sugar.
- Choose your fruits: Offer your baby bananas, pears, and avocados instead of apples and oranges. These fruits have a higher calorie content.
Food intake isn’t limited to mealtimes and snacks. You’ll want to take your unique life circumstances into account when looking for additional ways in which to increase your baby’s weight, but here are some suggestions that may help.
Vitamins and supplements
Although most babies are born with sufficient iron stores in their bodies to last them for the first 4 months of life, since breast milk contains very little iron, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfed babies be given an iron supplement (1 mg of iron for every kilo of body weight) from 4 months of age.
Formula fed babies get enough iron from the formula. It’s also a good idea to provide plenty of iron-rich foods. Before starting your baby on vitamins or supplements, you should talk to your pediatrician.
For the first months of life, remember that your baby is more in tune with their own needs than the clock. If they’re hungry, feed them. As they get older you can begin to establish set mealtimes.
After 6 months or so, more of a schedule may help encourage healthy eating habits. That’s the time to start setting aside time to mindfully eat. Make sure to schedule in snack time at mid-morning and mid-afternoon because little tummies don’t hold many reserves.
Eating as a family is conducive to eating more and trying out new foods. Keep distractions to a minimum by switching off your phone and the TV. Sometimes, however, you may find that reading a story to your child while you feed them is the best way to get them to eat.
No doubt about it — your child may be more likely to eat foods that they’d normally refuse when they’re part of a special event. Take dinner outdoors when the weather is nice. Let them have a romp across the grass for added appetite.
Plan a variety of meals to encourage trying new flavors, remembering to introduce new foods one at a time. Create sampler platters with dips and nibbles for pressure-free taste testing.
Don’t let a refusal stop you from offering a new food. It may take up to
You’re doing a great job giving your child the building blocks for a strong, healthy body. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself in the same way.
As your child grows and becomes more aware, your positive self-care will make an imprint and they’ll adopt your good habits. Well done — you’ve set them up for life.