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Breastfeeding: Slow Weight Gain

My Experience with My Children’s Slow Weight Gain

The early days of breastfeeding my babies were full of frustration, pain, and self doubt. Both of my children, Olivia and Enrique, did not reach their birth weight by 2 weeks. Our pediatrician at the time was concerned with their weight gain. As the main supplier of their food, I couldn’t help but feel like failure.

Olivia was born via scheduled cesarean. She lost more than 10% of her weight during our recovery at the hospital. I was instructed to pump and feed her my colostrum through a tube and syringe. At 10 days postpartum, the hospital lactation consultant diagnosed me with Insufficient Glandular Tissue. I met with a private International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). After further evaluation it turned out to be a misdiagnosis. Read more about my experience breastfeeding Olivia here.

Enrique was a VBAC – vaginal birth after cesarean. You can read his birth story here. He didn’t lose as much weight as Olivia did. But, he was a few ounces less than his birth weight at 2 weeks. We had a tough labor! He was in a funky position and born with torticollis. A condition where his neck muscles were tight causing him pain. Additionally, he had a tough time breastfeeding. His weight gain was on the low end for a breastfed baby. However, it was still within what’s considered a normal range. Enrique was under the care of our midwives for the first 6 weeks and then transferred care to the pediatrician. The midwives were not concerned with his weight gain, but the pediatrician was.

Look at the Baby, not the Scale

24 to 72 hours after birth, babies usually lose about 3-10% of their birth weight. They regain that weight over the next 2 to 3 weeks. When IV fluids are given during labor and birth, it is possible for the baby’s weight to be inflated. I believe this was the case with my daughter’s cesarean. A baby can weigh a few ounces more if they are placed on a scale before they pee for the first time. This might not seem like much. But, pediatricians tend to be concerned when a baby is a few ounces under birth weight at the 2 week checkup. Which was exactly what happened with my son.

Another common problem at these early checkups is a baby that is not gaining what the pediatrician considers to be normal weight gain. There is no true agreement on what is “normal” weight gain. Different texts cite normal weight gain can range from 4 to 8+ ounces a week. Additionally, our genetics as parents play a role in the size of our babies.

Normal Weight Gain in Breastfed Babies

Weight gain is usually the best indicator that you are producing enough milk for your baby. However, there is a lot of conflicting information on this topic! Below you will find what is generally considered normal weight gain for a breastfed baby:

– Weight gain of 4-7 ounces a week during the first month

– An average of 1-2 pounds per month for the first six months

– An average of one pound per month from six months to one year

Some websites cite that babies should gain 5.5 – 7oz a week in the beginning. The best thing you can do is work closely with your pediatrician and a private IBCLC. A lactation consultant can do weighted feedings. This will allow you to see how much milk your baby is taking at a feeding. She will also help you troubleshoot any breastfeeding issues you are experiencing. You will have a higher chance for success the earlier you seek help!

It’s Okay to Switch Healthcare Providers

Unfortunately, most pediatricians do not receive a lot of training in breastfeeding. If your provider makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to seek support elsewhere. I know how hard it is to switch providers. Our children saw the same pediatrician for over 3 years. However, I had anxiety around every well baby checkup. This led to me feeling inadequate. There was too much of an emphasis on weight gain and the growth chart.

If someone were to ask you what a 35 year old woman should weigh, you might laugh. The answer depends on her height, bone structure, ethnicity, and many other factors. So why do infant growth charts play such a front and center role in a baby’s health with little to no regard for their genetic makeup?

While a baby’s weight gain is an important aspect of overall health, your doctor should also be looking at other factors. Such as:

– Your own genetics

– Is your baby producing enough wet and dirty diapers?

– Is your baby meeting their developmental milestones?

– Is your baby alert and active?

– If your baby has siblings, what was their growth rate like?

Get Help Early in Your Breastfeeding Journey

If your baby is doing well, please don’t let a practitioner pressure you into supplementing. This can sabotage your milk supply.

If there are breastfeeding problems, the first solution should not be supplementation. Find quality in-person help whenever possible. There is nothing more valuable than having an experienced IBCLC observe you and your baby during a breastfeeding session. She will give you the hands on help, encouragement, and support you need and deserve.
Too many mothers and babies miss the opportunity to breastfeed because pediatricians are trained to look closer at the scale than at the baby.

The best advice I can offer is to seek qualified help with breastfeeding and find a practitioner that uses other factors besides weight gain to determine your baby’s overall health.

About the Author:

Brittani Velasquez is the owner and founder of ñuñuy. She is a mama of two, a home sewist, and is passionate about sustainable living. Read more about her here.

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