Parents of newborns often wonder if their child is getting enough to eat and growing adequately. So what is an appropriate weight gain for newborns, and what can you do to assure that weight gain?

Healthy Weight Gain

First, be aware that almost all newborns lose weight in the first few days of life, usually from excreting excess fluid. Newborns can lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight in the first four to five days after birth. For example, that’s up to 12 ounces for a baby weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces at birth.

After that, they typically gain weight, and should be back at their birth weight by 2 weeks of age. Once they start to gain, newborns usually gain about 1 ounce a day in the first month of life. Breast-fed babies often gain slightly less, but should gain at least .7 ounces a day during this time, according to the “Pediatric Nutrition Handbook.”

Some babies can grow more than that “normal” amount and still be considered healthy. Babies who were born small for their gestational age or born prematurely often show “catch-up growth” in which they gain much more than 1 ounce a day.

And although parents equate a chubby baby with a healthy baby, some studies have shown that excessive weight gain in infancy, especially in the first 3 months, is a risk factor for obesity later in life. There is no easy rule to determine if your newborn is gaining too much weight, but if you are concerned, discuss this with your doctor.

The following steps and tips will help ensure that your baby’s weight gain is healthy.

Breast-Feed

For many reasons, breast-feeding is the best way to feed your newborn. Many new mothers are scared off by the recommendation that they breast-feed exclusively for the first year.

Even if you can’t accomplish that, and the majority of women don’t, then breast-feeding as much as you can, for as long as you can, will benefit your child. Not only is it the best food for your baby when they are young, but breast-feeding has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity later in life.

Give Adequate Calories

Many new parents are afraid to “overfeed” their infants. This can lead to hungry, crying babies and frustrated parents. If your baby seems hungry, feed them. It doesn’t matter if they were fed 30 minutes ago, or just finished a feeding of 2 ounces. If they want more, give them more.

In my office, I see lots of parents wondering why their 2-week-old isn’t gaining adequate weight when they are giving the amount of formula they were told to give when the baby is born. I have to remind them that the baby is a lot bigger than when they were born, and needs more.

My simple rule is this: If the baby is hungry, feed them. If they aren’t, then don’t. There are no time intervals or amounts in that rule, and it’s simple to remember. So if baby is draining the 2 ounces in the bottle quickly, then next time put in 2.5 ounces.

Feed Frequently

Babies need to eat frequently, but they don’t keep to a schedule. Babies often cluster feed, especially breast-fed babies. So although a newborn needs to eat eight to 10 times a day, that doesn’t mean they will eat every 2 1/2 to three hours like clockwork. Sometimes they’ll eat 45 minutes after their last feeding and sometimes 4.5 hours later. Again, if they’re hungry, feed them and if they’re not, don’t!

The exceptions to this rule are if the baby was premature, small for their gestational age, or not gaining adequate weight on this regimen.

Keep Baby Awake and Alert During Feedings

Some newborns doze off while eating, and consequently, don’t take adequate amounts of breast milk or formula. If this is your newborn’s problem, then try to stimulate them during feeding times. Methods for this include:

  • turn all the lights on in the room
  • make the room a little chilly so they don’t get too comfortable
  • remove some of their clothing
  • play some music a little louder than you might otherwise
  • gently pinch their toes if you see them falling asleep

Increase Your Milk Supply

Sometimes mothers need to do what they can to increase milk supply.

Making sure you are eating enough and drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, will help maximize your milk supply. Speaking with a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider may give you other methods to increase your supply, such as taking supplements like fenugreek.