Finding solutions when feeding isn’t the answer

Often, the quickest way to stop a baby from crying is to feed them. But feeding isn’t always the answer, and in fact sometimes, can make an unhappy situation even worse.

Overfeeding is a common problem for babies and can lead to a number of health issues, including an increased risk of becoming overweight. Overfeeding is an easy pattern to fall into and can quickly become a habit. Making changes may be challenging but it’s worth trying other calming techniques when hunger isn’t the issue.

Both breast and bottle fed babies can be overfed, but it is more common with bottle feeding. This is because breastfed babies tend to control their own feeding volumes. With bottle feeding , parents and carers are the ones who are generally in control. Formula milk also has a higher protein level than breast milk with a higher concentration of kilojoules.

Reflux

Too much milk, too often, can increase refluxing in babies. Though some degree of reflux is normal and most babies grow out of it, overfeeding generally worsens reflux symptoms.

At the age of three months, a baby’s stomach is the size of a small lemon and can only hold around 180 mls of milk. Physically, there’s a limit to how much milk they can have in their stomach before it starts to come up again.

Current research is finding that commonly prescribed reflux medications may not be as effective as we hope they are. Many health professionals involved with babies tend to see medications being overprescribed and viewed as a “one size fits all crying babies” solution. Managing feeding frequency and volumes may have better calming results.

Five Main Reasons Why Babies Cry

When it’s not because of hunger

  1. Being tired. Many babies show the same cues when they’re tired as they do when they’re hungry like sucking their fists, mouthing and not wanting to settle.
  2. Feeling uncomfortable. Basics like being too hot or cold, nappy needing changing or too much loud noise can be very unsettling.
  3. Being overstimulated. Young babies can feel overwhelmed when there’s too much going on around them.
  4. Being over handled and just needing some space.
  5. Just needing a cuddle. Babies need loving care to grow and thrive. Sometimes just a cuddle and reassurance is all they need.
When it’s OK to Clock Watch

For a number of years we’ve been advised to watch the baby more and the clock less when it comes to feeding times. This makes perfect sense because no two babies are exactly the same – they’re all individuals with their own unique needs. However, it can still be useful to have a vague idea of feeding times, especially in a childcare centre where there are often many mouths to feed!

Why?

  • Frequent feeding can be a sign of a growth spurt or not being satisfied with feeding volume.
  • Time is objective and can help make sense of our actions.
  • If you need to give a feeding history to your baby’s healthcare professional or parent. Keeping a feeding diary gives clear information.
Clues a Baby May Not be Hungry
  • They are content and happy.
  • They go to sleep easily after feeding and stay asleep for a few hours.
  • They turn away from the breast or the bottle.
  • They stop sucking and swallowing.
  • They spill milk out of their mouth and may even vomit.
  • They cry, crunch up their face and just aren’t happy.
  • They push the breast or bottle away.
  • They’re easily distracted from the breast or bottle.
Tips to Help Know a Baby is Feeding Enough
  • They are growing. A steady weight gain and increase in their head circumference and length are all signs that they’re getting enough nutrition.
  • They’re generally happy and responsive.
  • They feel heavier in your arms.
  • They have at least six or more wet nappies each day. Heavy, wet and pale nappies are a sign of good hydration. Soft poos which are yellow/green also give a clue about volume of milk going in.
  • They are satisfied after they feed. They appear happy and content and stop showing hunger signs.
  • You notice they don’t fit into their pram or car seat like they used to.
  • They’re growing out of their clothes. If you need to dress them in the next size up or need to buy new sizes, then these are clues a baby is getting bigger.
  • If you compare photos over time and see a difference in their size.
  • They feel and look heavier. People may comment on how much they’ve grown and changed.
What You Can Try to Soothe a Baby
  • Go for a walk. Gentle, repetitive movement often lulls a baby to sleep.
  • A deep warm bath could help. Follow this with a massage and a story. A baby is hard wired to respond to voice and touch.
  • A dummy may help, but try not to rely on this too much.
  • Check with a child health nurse to see if they have some tips. Getting an expert’s advice can be very helpful.
  • From birth, offer increasing amounts of tummy time while the baby is awake and closely supervised by an adult. Place a rug on the floor and place some bright toys around so the baby has something to focus on. As the baby matures and becomes more mobile, clear away dangerous items.
  • Play some relaxing music or white noise. Or try a variety of music styles and tempos until you find one the baby responds to.
  • If nothing’s working, then it’s also fine to offer a feed.
Remember
  • Babies are not a physical extension of their parents, or carers. They are a separate person and have their own feelings, emotions and needs.
  • Babies will give you messages through their body language and behaviour. Think about what they’re trying to communicate.
  • Trust your “gut” instinct. You’ll find it’s generally right; and if not? Then you still get points for trying.
  • Caring for a crying baby is exhausting and saps energy. Create some physical space between you both if it’s getting too much.

This article was written for Sleep Smart by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse.

For more information on Babies and Sleep, please refer to our Guide to Settlings Infants course. This course also comes as part of our convenient 3-course Infant Bundle.