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parenthood

My Starving, Neglected Underweight Breastfed Baby

Starving Neglected Breastfed Baby. Why baby growth charts don't apply to ALL babies.

Starving Neglected Breastfed Baby. Why baby growth charts don't apply to ALL babies.

At least that’s how I felt recently when I left my pediatricians office.  At Scarlett’s 7 month checkup I was told she was underweight based on a growth chart and that doctors were “concerned”.  Being a new mom, I wasn’t too familiar w/these ‘growth charts’, I just know that leaving the doctor’s office that day I was almost in tears.

Was I the worst mom ever?  Was my baby starving?   Have I run out of milk?  

It didn’t help that when I talked to a few family members about it I got comments and questions like…

“Leave her with us for a week, we will fatten her up”, “Are you trying to limit what she eats?”  “Give her some formula and that will help.”

Really?  As if I was not capable of taking care of my own child, or I was purposely putting my baby on a diet.  NO! Scarlett was 6lbz 14oz at birth, has been exclusively breast fed since she was born and was eating solids at least 3, sometimes 4 times a day.  The thoughts of being an inadequate mom settled in and the minute I got home I pumped to check milk supply, which was more than abundant.

The more I looked into it, I quickly learned that I was not the only mom who was being hasseled by family and doctors about this.  With so many children today facing the problem of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes, why on earth is my small baby a problem?  I am a petite woman, 5’5 height and her dad is not the tallest or biggest person so why should my baby be?  She is happy and developing normally, doctors say she is “thriving”, oh but she’s too skinny. I started wondering about these growth charts and decided to do some research.

According to a few articles I read, these original charts were based off of data gathered around the 1970’s on white, male, formula fed babies.  The charts were updated in 2002 to include breast fed babies and other ethnic groups but some research says that the average baby is still “lighter” than what these charts would have you believe.  To me it just seems like common sense, that a chart used to measure the growth of all babies around the U.S. would lead to a little bit of inaccuracies in some. I also found information that suggests breast fed babies are naturally thinner because of their built-in hunger cues that tells them to stop nursing when they are full.

I also came across several articles that said overfeeding a healthy baby can lead to health problems later on in life, including obesity, and can interfere with their natural ability to recognize when they are full and to stop eating.

Being told that your baby is underweight is probably not the best thing to tell a new mom. Thoughts of inadequacies go through your head, like you’re not doing something right.  Many moms quit breastfeeding and supplement with formula because of this.

Have you had any experiences with this and been told your little one was underweight?  How did it make you feel, and how did you handle?

 

You can also check out my article on Increasing your Breast Milk Supply Naturally
How I breastfed for over 2 years

 

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Amy
    November 9, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Hey there! Loved reading this…. I am going thru the exact same thing, and it doesn’t help that my partner’s dad is a pediatrician. Good to hear I am not alone, my baby girl Nakita was born at 6 lbs 7 oz, she is totally healthy and alert, now 6 wks old. I am still getting hassled by in laws mostly that she is starving. Thankfully I have some awesome support, it seems like younger moms are way more on my side and the lactation consultant I had come days to follow my instinct and not change a thing! Always trust that mother knows best.

    Thanks again!
    Amy

    • Reply
      Melanie
      November 14, 2013 at 1:25 am

      Amy, so glad you can relate. My baby girl is now 18 months old. We didn’t switch her to formula. We stuck with breastfeeding and then just increased her protein intake when she ate. She eventually caught up in weight. She hated anything with meat and fish though, so we went with tofu. Can you guess what her FAVORITE food still is right now? TOFU! She loves that stuff. She has moved on to eat more things now but every once in a while for breakfast I will make her favorite Tofu, Banana and oatmeal. She gobbles that up quick. lol Stick with your instincts. Mom knows her little one best.

  • Reply
    Maite Aguirrezabal
    August 2, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    I loved this article, I can relate to it completely! I am always being told that my son Damian is too skinny and that I should supplement with formula since day one. It’s bullshit though because he is a perfect and happy baby who eats all the time! But here I am 10 months later still strong with breastfeeding 🙂 Even though our last weigh in with him he came in at a perfect 20lbs we still have family saying we don’t feed him enough, very frustrating……..

  • Reply
    brittany
    November 24, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Just happen today she wants him to eat 3 meals now i been doing 2 n to start teething crackers. Just cuz he weighs 15. 17 at 7 months

  • Reply
    Valerie Spiegelman
    January 20, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    My son is only in the 10th percentile at 3 months but he is growing a lot. He is exclusively breastfed and we are that big of people ourselves. He is reaching his milestones and he is content so I am happy to have a small baby. He might catch up a bit once he is on solids…frusterating cause we were told to supplement too but chose to stick with breastfeeding!

    I am a blogger too! http://WWW.spiegelmanbaby.blogspot.ca Check it out!

  • Reply
    florence
    February 20, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    I was just at the hospital tonight and my daughter weighed 7p 12 oz. Her last visit she was 13p and now she went down to 12 again. I breastfeed her but doesn’t like bottles or anything like that sad. I can’t pump because she’s a very demanding child.

    Can anyone help me with some ideas shes 8 months old right now.

    • Reply
      Rozy
      June 24, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Try high fat foods like ghee butter, carnation milk in cereal, avacado, cream with pasta, etc

  • Reply
    Cindy
    July 14, 2015 at 6:51 am

    Thank you for your article. I’m breastfeeding my second child who is almost 4 months and he too is underweight. With my first child I started to stress about the weight issue around the same time frame and I gave in at 5 months and supplemented and at 6 months she only wanted the bottle so we stopped bf. I really don’t want the same thing to happen with my son. He feeds constantly through the day so pumping is difficult for me. Reading this helped me to have more faith in myself and with the blessings God has given me to continue nursing. Skinny babies are healthy babies too!

  • Reply
    Increasing your Breast Milk Supply - How I Breastfed for 24+ Months - The Story of Five
    August 26, 2015 at 8:40 am

    […] I hear about so many women who have stopped nursing because they were worried about whether or not they were producing enough milk, or have had a doctor tell them to switch to formula because their baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. I experienced this too. You can read more about that here. […]

  • Reply
    julie
    December 2, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this. My 6 week old is still under 8 lbs and I have friends with younger babies that are pushing 10 lbs or more. Some are even also breastfeeding, so it’s hard not to feel that I’m inadequate b/c my son is still so tiny. This made me feel better.

  • Reply
    April
    January 14, 2016 at 8:26 am

    we just went in this week for a check up and was told my 10 month old fell off the growth chart. She’s been sick and doesn’t feel like eating I guess but she hasn’t lost weight. She’s also trying to walk and stays active ALL day long. She’s breastfed. I was told that my milk may have lost some of its fat content. This makes me feel like a terrible mother and an inadequate mother. I wasn’t told anything I could do to increase the fat content, just to try and get her to take in an extra bottle a day (I pump at work and she just uses bottle now). She won’t do it. We’ve been trying for a few days now and she just doesn’t want it. She was eating solids like a champ but since a cold hit last week, she doesn’t want those either. I feel terrible .

  • Reply
    Kelly
    January 30, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    My daughter is 12 months old 3 weeks and 2 days early. She only weighs 14.4 I know that’s crazy but she seems happy she’s never been sick or anything. She’s pretty much stayed around <3% but recently dropped to 1%. At her 12 month appt the doctor was so rude she was drilling me about exactly how much she eats I could barely give the correct answer she looked so worried (why now all of a sudden?). She told me to switch to formula 26 oz a day no food. I've been very stressed out since the appt and I'm obsessing over feeding her I'm a nervous wreck. My baby will not take formula and pumping is not gonna tell you how much i produce (she thinks so) I never do it so I don't know what to do. And just to put it out there I'm 4'11 94 lbs. Always been in the 3rd percentile and dad is 5'2. Im not going back to that pedi I felt very judged I'm gonna get a second opinion I need better advice than that not just u suck as a parent u don't feed her enough give her formula.. Great advice.. I will not let you diagnose my baby as failure to thrive when I know she is happy and healthy.

  • Reply
    Alexis
    March 1, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    I wish I would have seen this months ago! I had my son last February, and he was a completely average baby at birth, 50 percentile all around. I breastfed, he was amazing at it. He wasn’t a plump baby though, he was always a peanut. When we went to his 4 month check up the doctor straight out accused me of not feeding my baby. Then proceeded to call him scrawny. He then lectured me on how I needed to give him formula or I myself needed to eat more fat. The truth is though my milk was perfect, it wasn’t thin and I was pumping pretty well even though I was back at work full time. I left his office crying and wondering if I was doing something wrong. I was a wound, single, new mom trying to do best and breastfeed. Plus I was getting comments from family, friends, and even strangers at all thin he was. I got so upset and after that appointment my milk production went down enormously. I was struggling to have enough milk, my whole right breast just stopped producing. I was forced to start giving my 5 month old formula, and I was upset. Now he is a year old and only 18lbs. We switched doctors. He is still the thinnest baby around. He wears 9 month clothing. But he has been constantly ahead in milestones, walking at 10 months. I spent so much of the first year of his life worrying and thinking I was doing something wrong. But he is so extremely healthy and smart, he’s just small. I just wish people didn’t push having a chubby baby. I still struggle with letting that doctor get into my head and ruining my confidence I had at being a mom. I don’t want other moms to be discouraged if your baby doesn’t have roles or doesn’t “chart” like other babies.

  • Reply
    Ashley
    March 9, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    I’m so thankful for this article! My baby girl is almost 3 months now. She was 6 lb 9 oz at birth, and is 8 lb 8 oz now. She has been gradually dropping off the bottom of the growth chart since she was born, and at her 2 month check up, it had finally happened. Her doctor was concerned and sent me back to the lactation consultants at the hospital. While working with them, she gained 3 oz in 2 weeks, so they’re having me wake up several times during the night to feed her, and I’m “power pumping” in the afternoons when I get home from work in the hopes that my supply will increase. We’re going back in this week for another weight check, and if she hasn’t gained 4 oz, they’re going to recommend that we supplement. I’m desperate for a fix, but at the same time, I look at my daughter and see a picture of health! I’m torn

  • Reply
    Icshia
    May 7, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I, like many other comments I read, am so glad I came across this article. My baby girl is 4 months and I was told she was underweight. I see I am not alone, although I felt like I was. I felt like she wasn’t getting the same one on one time with nursing that my two year old got and so I was feeling like I was neglecting my child. It it damn sure doesn’t help when I have family members referring to my baby as being itty bitty and suggesting that my breast milk “ain’t cuttin it.” That comment really burned my biscuits lol. Seeing this article along with the comments gives me faith and not to be so hard on myself.

  • Reply
    Mama Curtiss
    August 28, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. My 9 month old girl is now a rubber band armed healthy baby and those thighs are chunk, however, it wasn’t always this way. She has been EBF with solids 3x’s/day. The start of our BF journey was a bit of a struggle as my milk didn’t come in fully until her 6th day so that meant her 1 week check up was not encouraging. She dropped over a pound and doctor wanted to see her again in a week. We did weekly weight checks for a month and doctor was really pushing supplementing with formula. She wasn’t gaining an ounce a day as he would prefer. She was going 4-5 ounces per week at first. But she was sleeping good from about day 9 on. Don’t get me wrong, I love her doctor but I didn’t want to supplement. I planned to EBF and I stuck with it through many frustrations. Nothing indicated to me that she wasn’t getting what she needed as she slept well through the night and napped frequently through the day. There were no indicators that she “needed more”. And a couple of times, I stood crying with a sample can of formula in hand contemplating if my refusal for formula was a struggle with ego. Luckily my husband was supportive (through my doubts and my whacky hormones), encouraged my desire to EBF and we made it through. We are still going strong.

    As a nurse and a EBF mama, I believe those growth charts are crap. If your daughter is “thriving”, why is her weight a concern. I am confident that you know best what your daughter needs. Keep going! xoxo

  • Reply
    Catherine @ Ten Thousand Hour Mama
    November 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Yes! It’s also helpful to ask your pediatrician WHICH growth chart they are using. The WHO growth chart is based on breastfed babies internationally and better reflects a healthy range of sizes for exclusively BF babies.

    When I talked to my sister-in-law, who is barely 5 feet tall, she told me this: “Chihuahuas make chihuahuas, and great danes make great danes.” If you’re small, you probably won’t have a giant baby!

    • Reply
      Casey G.
      February 28, 2017 at 9:49 am

      What if the baby is 5th percentile on both charts? Should I be worried?

  • Reply
    Teresa
    December 15, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    I am so with you – I HATE those stupid charts at the doctor. My two boys are on the small side and BARELY make the height and weight charts – my 3½ year old still wears 2T clothes and my 21 month old is in 18 month clothes. At his 3 year check-up, my son finally made it to the big leagues and measures in the 50th percentile! LOL Our doctor told us that it doesn’t even matter, as long as they are consistently growing at each visit, there’s no reason to worry!

  • Reply
    Margaret
    December 20, 2016 at 3:41 am

    From the get go I’ve had trouble with my baby’s weight. She had breastfeeding jaundice for almost two weeks. My ped had me supplement instead of encouraging me to nurse more. She’s been slow to gain ever since. She’s been in the 5th percentile for weight until her last appt where she dropped off the chart. She hadn’t gained anything since her last visit. (She’s now 9 months)
    I had been so upset and disappointed that I was “starving” my child.
    The more I read about this, however, the more angry I get. I think my supply was jeopardized as soon as I started supplementing. And now that shes not gaining like my dr wants her to, they want me to feed her more fatty foods. Still, no mention of my breastfeeding and how to help me be successful at that.
    I have 4 children.. I feel so stupid for not recognizing this bad advice. All my children were small and all of them were slow to gain. Except my first, who had formula.
    I’m so thankful for people like you and for the supportive breastfeeding websites that are out there. Without them I would have quit breastfeeding by now. I’ve been feeling so defeated thinking that I wasnt producing enough milk. All along the answer was so simple. 🙁

  • Reply
    Jen
    February 26, 2017 at 10:31 am

    My baby was 5 pounds 12 ounces at birth… I had gallbladder issues during pregnancy… I ate REALLY healthy. All fruits, vegetables and fat free (I wish I could have done the fat but it was so painful). I tried breastfeeding exclusively but they wanted me to supplement too so I did that.
    My baby ended up having bad acid reflux and I couldn’t do the milk/soy/egg free diet because it wasn’t healthy for me at that point so I had to switch to hypoallergenic formula.
    The doctors are on us about her not weighing enough too. So it’s not just breastfed babies!
    I think in America people are obese. I tried to research what babies weighed back when people didn’t eat processed foods, but I couldn’t figure it out. I’m guessing the babies were closer to the 6 pound range.
    It makes me wonder if that is why there are so many C sections… it seems like 9-10 pound babies are normal these days. Not sure that should be a normal.

  • Reply
    Casey G.
    February 28, 2017 at 9:47 am

    I am so glad I am not the only one going through this. But I feel maybe it is me. I refuse to stop nursing but I am afraid my milk is not giving her enough calories and the doctor recommended we supplement with formula. When she was born she was 8lbs 13oz but I in labor for 17hrs so we were hooked up to IV. She is in the 5th percentile and she gets solids twice a day. She is super active and I don’t want to over feed her but I also want her to be healthy. I hate this feeling, especially as a new mom and especially with MIL who raised my husband on formula.

  • Reply
    Holly
    May 6, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    My boy (now 26 months) and my new baby girl (3.5 months) were both very skinny and very tall. My girl, since birth, has had one cold lasting at least 3.5 terrible weeks of suctioning her nose 3-6 times a day so she could breathe, and thrush twice. Docs say thrush can’t affect baby, but she would gag whenever she had thrush and I tried to latch her onn; when the thrush left so did the gagging. She has dropped from 15th to 11th percentile and I have been told to give her formula by her fam doc. I am not for this. Our personal parenting philosophy for our babies is that they should be fed directly from breast at all times, unless they have a tough feeding day then we will supplement with a syringe if they seem hungry after nursing. The doc doesn’t even consider that she has been sick as a source of poor eating leading to slow weight gain. I sought a second opinion, and the pediatrician agreed with me it’s not necessary to consider supplementation yet. She said that we have at least one month to see if her weight levels out or what the cause of poor eating is. She said, “if chubby babies had this sort of growth people wouldn’t bat an eye. Your baby is tall and skinny, and she is allowed to be that way. Our goal is not to change a baby’s body type, but to ensure proper nutrition. I’m not going to treat your baby different than a chubby one just cuz she has a different body type.” I found this like nectre to my soul. My girl is happy, active, bright eyed, and growing well otherwise, and her output is fine. I would recommend to every mom — YOUR baby is allowed to be how YOUR baby is. Get a second opinion before worrying about baby or yourself!

  • Reply
    Joelle
    August 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Good read and so true! My EBF bb boy was born in the 5th-10th percentile and dipped off the weight charts a bit at 4 months. I was so stressed when the nurse called him “failure to thrive”. His doc requested a follow up appointment but didn’t seem all that worried about it. I added a few night feedings and he came back up and now at 6 months he is dropping again! I am much less anxious this time around, doctor said just increase offering of solids. You can’t forcefeed a baby. And he is perfectly strong and healthy!

  • Reply
    Mel
    December 23, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    I regret listening to an overzealous pediatrician now. My baby girl was born 7 lbs 4 oz and like most babies; lost weight her first week, only 8% not in the danger zone. Her pediatrician literally told me that I had to add formula to her diet and that I was failing her by exclusively breastfeeding. I felt like the worst mother in the world. She made us come back every two days to check her weight; and yes she grew a bit after adding the formula; but she had already started gaining when she was exclusively breast fed. I feel we were dtrong armed into following with bottle when there was nothing wrong with my baby or my breast milk; we swit hed doctors and read my previous ones reviews and we aren’t the only ones who felt strong armed into formula feeding. I am so sad. My baby is healthy and still on the boob and bottle; but I feel like I lost out on her development. Usually pediatricians are the best people to listen to; our new one said that our baby was fine according to her medical records and there was no reason to force formula.

  • Reply
    Jeannine
    May 19, 2020 at 3:10 am

    Reading this at 1 am and thank you so much for sharing this post. My baby was born 6.14 too and had weight problems in the beginning because of bad latch. Well I toughed it out and now we’re a year strong BFing exclusively and I don’t want to stop. But the doc today said she’s concerned because shes not where he should be on the “curve.” This caused a lot of my PPD and PPA in the beginning and I didn’t want to relive this nightmare of feeling not good enough AGAIN. So I’m happy to read this post and see someone else has similar ideas about why are we using such a generalized curve from the 70s which does not include as much info on babies like my perfect little Asian baby. Me and his dad are small so why is he expected to fit their “curve”? Thanks for sharing. You make me feel like a better mom knowing I’m not alone.

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