Can You Overfeed A Breastfed Baby With Expressed Milk And Bottle?

Having a baby is truly a unique experience for everyone. That bond between mother and baby feels almost unbreakable in the first few months of the baby’s life and I cherished it all.

Thankfully, maternity leave gave me a chance to spend some quality time with my newborn. I took the opportunity to breastfeed, and while it was a rewarding experience that I would have loved to continue exclusively by breast, other priorities kicked in and work had to be resumed shortly.

This meant that I would be spending long hours away from my baby, and pumping my breast milk to be offered in a bottle was the next best thing I could do. It was often said that you can not overfeed a baby from the breast, but now she would be taking breast milk from a bottle.

Can you overfeed a breastfed baby with expressed milk and bottle? Research shows that yes, it is possible to overfeed a baby with a bottle of expressed breast milk.

Although many parents believe feeding a baby breast milk by bottle makes it harder to overfeed because they can physically see the amount of breast milk for intake, studies show otherwise. 

Summary of today’s article:

8 Common Causes For Overfeeding A Breastfed Baby

Taking breast milk from the bottle may have some challenges that could lead to overfeeding. Some of them are:

  1. Bottle-feeding affects babies ability to regulate their intake

Research has shown that feeding a baby by bottle affects their ability to regulate how much substance they are receiving, and in some instances, by the time the baby’s body realizes that it is full, the extra milk is already consumed.

  1. You may overestimate the amount of milk

Parental control over the amount of milk that is in the bottle is one of the most common causes of overfeeding. Although parents can see how much food the baby is consuming, it is easy to estimate a higher amount than is actually needed.

  1. Baby’s Age

Babies younger than 12 weeks old cannot control milk flow through an artificial nipple and have limited ability to self-regulate their intake due to their sucking reflex. It is also harder for them to indicate that they had enough due to immaturity in physical development, putting them most at risk for overfeeding.

  1. Little effort and energy to bottle feed
bottle feed a baby

A baby uses very little energy to get expressed milk from a bottle compared to the breast. When a baby breastfeeds, it takes a lot of effort, using 40 different facial muscles.

The muscles used to get the milk from the bottle are completely different which takes way less energy so the baby may get more than needed.

  1. Using fast flow bottles

These bottles provide a constant flow of large amounts of milk at a fast rate which can cause babies to get too much. 

  1. Babies need to suck

Sucking is comforting for babies and they have a very strong need to suck. Even if the baby is not intentionally sucking for more milk, the easy release of milk from the bottle can cause too much intake for the baby.

  1. An imbalance in expressed milk 

The contents of your milk are generally labelled as foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk looks thinner and more watery, and has protein, antibodies, and extra water to satisfy a baby’s thirst.

Hindmilk looks thicker and is higher in fat calories which helps your baby to gain weight and grow.

If the expressed milk in the bottle is only foremilk, it will fill the baby up but not not for very long, causing the baby to need more breast milk more often.

  1. Babies have other needs

It is biologically normal for babies to fall asleep at the breast. If this happens while taking expressed milk from the bottle, it could mean that the baby was not hungry and was sucking for sleeping, but unintentionally also getting extra milk.

In addition giving the baby a bottle of milk as a way of comfort when the baby is not hungry can cause the baby to overeat.

How Much Expressed Milk In A Bottle Causes Overfeeding For Babies?

Overfeeding is giving a baby more milk than the baby needs for normal growth and energy by means of a bottle. So just how much milk does a breastfed baby need when taking milk from a bottle?

All babies are different and may drink different amounts at each feeding. However, research shows helpful guidelines that indicate how much milk a baby may need, and exceeding a baby’s limit could cause overfeeding.

Babies who are fed only breast milk will have a rapid requirement increase during the first few weeks of life.

The required amount then stays about the same between 1 and 6 months with a likely slight increase short term during growth spurts. Some time after 6 months you may notice as the baby eats more solids there is usually a gradual decrease in milk intake.

Here is a chart that breaks down the average ranges of breast milk need in a 24 hour period:

Baby’s AgeTotal Daily Amount in OuncesApprox. Ounces per feeding 
7 days old14 – 221 – 2
30 days old17 – 242 – 4
1 – 6 months19 – 304 – 6
6 – 8 months24 – 364 – 8
8 – 12 months24 – 324 – 6 meal/snack, 6-8 oz at bedtime
12 – 24 months14 – 244 – 8

Signs Of Overfed Baby

Understanding the ways in which overfeeding can happen can make us better prepared to act. But how do you know when your baby is being overfed breast milk from a bottle? Here are some common signs to look for in your baby:

  • Gaining weight greater than average
  • Frequent milk regurgitation after draining a bottle (Spitting Up)
  • Frequent large or loud belching
  • Many heavily wet diapers per day (8 or more)
  • Loose and foul smelling stool
  • General Irritability and frequent sleep disruptions
  • Passing extreme flatulence

Overfeeding symptoms are sometimes mistaken for colic, allergy to milk protein, and reflux. A common separation is that when being overfed, the baby may display healthy growth, which does not typically happen when a baby has gastrointestinal conditions that are left untreated.

Signs of overfed baby

What Are The Dangers Of Overfeeding A Baby With Expressed Milk?

Health concerns may arise when a baby is being overfed breast milk in a bottle. The list includes:

  • Overloading your baby’s tiny stomach with more milk than it can comfortably hold, and more nutrients than the intestinal tract can properly digest
  • Causing belly cramps and spasms which are painful for babies. The baby’s belly may feel hard and look distended and some babies might continuously pull their legs into their chest when experiencing belly cramps.
  • Producing excess gas and discomfort from swallowing too much air when babies overeat
  • Becoming lethargy and sluggish after feeding which will stop them from moving around (a normal part of their development)
  • Increasing more intense and frequent crying in already colicky babies
  • Lactose overload
  • Causing diaper rash, gas, abdominal pain, and irritation of the intestines which leads to bloody stools, when babies are overfed excessive amounts of foremilk
  • Causing nutritional imbalances when the baby starts to eat solid food, because if you overfeed the baby breast milk from the bottle, they may not have enough nutrients from other food sources leading to nutrient deficiencies.
  • Increasing their risk of overweight and obesity. Theories show that babies who are overfed may continue to overeat later in life.

10 Tips To On How To Avoid Overfeeding Your Baby With Bottle

  1. Practice Paced feeding. This allows babies more control over their breast milk intake by responding to their cues for hunger instead of a schedule, since it mimics feeding at the breast.
  2. Don’t force your baby to finish the bottle if the baby doesn’t want to. If you don’t want to lose breast milk, warm smaller amounts at a time.
  3. Burp your baby during feeds and encourage the baby to pause by resting the nipple on the lips
  4. While feeding hold the baby in an upright position instead of reclining
  5. Look for signs your baby is done like chewing on the nipple, looking around, or drowsing off and releasing the nipple before the bottle is empty. Don’t reawake the baby to finish the bottle
  6. Use slow flowing bottles
  7. Use pacifier or encourage the baby to suck on a hand for comfort instead of giving milk in a bottle
  8. Don’t rush feedings. Aim for 10 – 20 minutes
  9. Use a breast milk guide only as an estimate and track your baby’s daily intake amount
  10. Express a mixture of foremilk and hindmilk in each pumping session

How To Avoid Overfeeding Your Baby With Bottle

Feed Your Baby Well

The key thing to remember is that different babies drink different amounts at a time. If you are concerned about overfeeding your baby, speak to your baby’s pediatrician or your lactation consultant for evaluation.

What matters overall is that your baby is happy and healthy.