Can a newborn eat too much?

Overfeeding a newborn often causes discomfort to the child because they can’t properly digest all breast milk or formula. When overeating, the child can also ingest air, which can produce gas, increase abdominal discomfort, and cause crying. A child can even spit more than usual and have a soft stool. Although the discomfort of crying is not colic, they can make crying more frequent and intense in a child who already has colic. Children give clues during feeding that indicate how hungry they are.

Mother holding baby in nursery
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Pay attention to these tips to help determine when the baby received enough food:

  • A hungry child will hold the breast or bottle and continuously suck.
  • A child who fills up during breastfeeding will have longer breaks between sucking.
  • A full child will move away from the breast or bottle and will not want to suck.

The amount of food each newborn needs will vary. Infants usually do not take more breast milk or formula than necessary for their bodies. In general, your child should look healthy and happy and have a good muscle tone, healthy skin, and good color. Overeating means that the baby consumes more milk (breast milk or formula) than they need for growth and energy needs. Getting too much milk can overload a child’s small stomach with more milk than it can comfortably contain, along with more nutrients that their intestinal tract can adequately digest.

Signs of overeating

  • Above-average weight gain
  • Frequent, nauseating bowel movements
  • Large burping
  • Milk regurgitation
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance

Symptoms associated with overeating are usually mistakenly attributed to colic, reflux, allergies, or intolerances to milk protein, or lactose intolerances. What separates the excess from these conditions is that the child shows healthy growth, which does not happen when the child has an untreated infection associated with the gastrointestinal tract.

What causes a newborn to eat too much?

There are plenty of reasons why a newborn can be overfed, these include:

  • Sleep deprivation: Lack of sleep disrupts the hormonal balance, which regulates appetite, resulting in increased appetite.
  • It is wrong to interpret a child’s desire to suck as hunger: Children are at the stage of oral development. In addition to wanting to suck when they are hungry, they also like to suck when they are tired, bored, uncomfortable, frustrated, or simply because they like to suck.
  • Active sucking reflex: Babies have a limited ability to point or stop when consuming enough milk due to the sucking reflex, especially when feeding very quickly.
  • Feeding very quickly: It takes time for our brain to record that our stomach is full. Fast feeding increases the likelihood that a child will ingest more milk than the stomach can contain or more than their immature digestive system can adequately digest.
  • Association of feeding and sleep: A child who falls asleep regularly by sucking a bottle can learn that the way they fall asleep is with a bottle in their mouth. This means that a child may want a bottle not only when they are hungry, but also when they are tired.
  • Neglect or ignore the signs of satiety: Satiety means that the child is full. The caregiver may try to force the child to consume the amount in the bottle after the child has shown signs of being full. Forced feeding of the baby is easy to implement while the baby’s sucking reflex is active (from birth to 3-4 months), and therefore it is easy to force the baby to take more than necessary.

How to deal with overeating in a newborn

Overeating increases the likelihood that the child will be overweight or obese if the causes are wrong. Rapid weight gain in early childhood is associated with an increased risk of obesity in adulthood. Overeating is a more common problem in early childhood than malnutrition; however, malnutrition is a more serious problem. It is important not to limit the baby’s milk intake, but to help them self-regulate. If you happen to overload the baby, make a point to comply with the signs of feeding the baby in the future. If the child moves away until the end of the bottle or before the usual time of breastfeeding ends, accept the fact that your little one is full. If you are concerned about the possible overeating of the child, talk to your pediatrician. The doctor will examine the length, weight, and development of the baby, but while the baby thrives, they will most likely eat very well.

Baby holding bottle while in mother's arms
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Overeating of a child is very rare, but it can happen. It is more common in children who breastfeed from a bottle, simply because it is easier for parents to see the size of the food their newborn consumes. It also requires less effort to drink from the bottle, so that children (who like to suck) can inadvertently get a lot of milk during breastfeeding. Don’t focus on the numbers — it does not matter how many ounces the baby finishes with each feeding. It is crucial that the child is healthy and happy in general.

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