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Did you know…Breastfed Babies Grow Differently? Find out why knowing this can change your parenting worries!
I step on the scale and weigh just myself. Step on the scale with my 9 month old daughter and weigh both of us.
What? Really? Maybe I did the math wrong…
Re-check math, nope it’s correct. Maybe I should re-weigh us, nope same number.
Hmmm that seems lighter than I was hoping she’d weigh.
I get on the internet and pull up the CDC growth chart.
Oh my gosh! She’s not even ON the charts now! (For the record she was only in the 15% at 6 months)
I wanted to weigh my daughter before her 9 month appointment with the doctor. Just to prepare myself for how things will be at the doctor’s.
I’m an overly curious mama I guess, plus my daughter is my first exclusively breastfed baby.
Now however, I go into panic mode. Why in the world is she not gaining as much as she should?
I know she’s a slow gainer but really? She’s dropping off the charts?
Did you know that breastfed babies grow differently than formula-fed babies?
Yes, it’s true. Breastfed babies tend to be bigger than formula-fed peers in their first few months and then from around 6 months on it switches and formula-fed babies are the bigger ones.
Why It’s Important to Remember that Breastfed Babies Grow Differently
- If you are a mama like me who likes to weigh your baby at home, it means you will know that your baby isn’t dropping off the charts suddenly.
- There are times when a doctor sees a baby in the first few months and recommends that mom doesn’t breastfeed as much. Why? Because the baby is big! Well, big on the CDC chart anyway. However, if you know that a breastfed baby grows bigger than a formula-fed baby in those first few months, then you know that your baby is probably just fine. You just need a better chart!
- Time and time again a doctor will be completely fine with how a breastfed baby is gaining until around that 6-9 month mark. Suddenly, it appears that your baby isn’t gaining weight like she should and you are sent home with a can of formula and instructions to start supplementing. The problem is your doctor is probably using the wrong chart!
Most doctors use the CDC Growth Chart for babies.
The CDC chart is based on a high formula-fed population however. Therefore, when your breastfed baby is being compared to this chart it does look like she is falling off the charts.
The good news is that the World Health Organization developed a new growth chart based on predominately breastfed children. This chart gives a realistic look at how a breastfed baby grows.
Because the WHO site is a bit confusing, at least it is for me and it’s in metric. I’ve save you some of the clicking and posted the links to the WHO charts (from the CDC site…so yes it says CDC but it IS the WHO chart.
CDC has now listed both charts on their site. Weight-for-age Percentiles for Girls Birth to 2 years and Weight-for-age Percentiles for Boys Birth to 2 years.
If you are interested to see the difference between the CDC and WHO charts check out Kellymom’s comparison.
You can clearly see that breastfed babies do not grow like formula-fed babies.
My real reason for writing this post is to help others understand that perhaps their breastfed baby isn’t falling off the charts, perhaps they do not need that formula.
(Note: I definitely do not want to sound like I’m saying you should never supplement with formula; there are definitely times when it is needed. I’m just saying that you might want to compare charts before you buy that can of formula. Also note, there are actually 5 options for if you can’t breastfeed and only one is formula!)
If your doctor is concerned that your breastfed baby isn’t gaining as much as they should, ask your doctor what chart they are using!
Odds are it’s the CDC chart. Check the WHO chart instead and then see if your baby really is falling off the charts.
Perhaps your doctor is fine with where you baby is measuring but YOU are worried. What mom hasn’t felt that nagging fear that perhaps your baby isn’t growing properly?
The WHO chart can definitely relieve some of that worrying. That is what I had to do!
As I said, according to the CDC chart my daughter had fallen well below the weight chart. However, on the WHO chart she is hold steady on her petite 15%. Worried mama put to ease.
Want even more breastfeeding posts to read? Check these out:
Tips From a 1st Time Breastfeeding Mom
11 Myths of Breastfeeding and Why You Should Ignore Them
Tips & Tricks for a Breastfeeding Mom Going Back to Work
Got Milk? 15 Was to Increase Milk Supply
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Thanks for this, it's great!
I had a moment…I thought the WHO chart was just completely wrong. Then I noticed that it's in kg, not lbs. 🙂
Yes, I have yet to find the WHO chart not in metric. It's a bit of a pain to do the conversion. 🙁
My daughter has always been small. I have always heard (mostly from family) that she is too small, always a constant fluttering about her weight. My milk is gone from being pregnant, so she is relying on solids and getting little to nothing when she nurses a few times a day. This increased everyone's worry even more. She figures low on the breastfeeding chart, too, but at least she's on there! According to the CDC she is barely bigger than a 1 year old at 21 months.My point? I love this post. Helpful to many a worried or harried mama. : )
It's true! Our pedi is super pro BF and he uses a different chart for breastfed babies than for formula fed babies. Our DD is 85th – 95th% ile in growth on her chart, but for the formula fed chart I am not sure. He never suggested formula though, and has been very supportive if not downright pushy! When he asked how long I planed to breastfeed and I said "why don't you ask her that?" and pointed at DD, he smiled and said "great!" Your DD is SO cute too, btw! Her hair is getting so long 🙂
I love this post. Both of the kids I breastfed are lean string bean types. They would slowly drop off the charts too. Luckily we have a fantastic physician network and all they have ever said is… they look fed, happy, and healthy keep up the good work Mom. Still I worry, especially since they are tall and we can never find pants to fit… they are always high waters or too big in the waist. Love blogs about stuff like this to help reassure me.
I went through this with my doc! He tried to convince me to start supplementing with formula b/c my girl started big then slowed down at around 5 months! Nice to know I wasn't doing anything wrong, and I'm glad I stood my ground!
Found this on pintrest. Yup I went through this at 12 months with my oldest. The ped was pushing me to wean and feed her more solids beecause "she's droped from the 50th% to the 10th%" I went home and plotted her on the WHO chart and she was right around te 50th%, where she'd been since birth. I did not wean her.
My pediatrician did not support me at all with my choice to breastfeed my daughter. I had to stop going to check ups.
I disagree with this information. My daughter was formula fed and she was on the bigger for the first 6 months, she was born at 9 lbs 2 oz, and around 6 months was about 16 lbs but then, after 6 months, she really tappered off, why, because she started to crawl! Then, when she started to walk at 10 months, she slowed down even more. She is 18 months and weighs all of 22 lbs. She is just petite. Our doctor didn't tell us to keep using formula or give her more. He was totally fine. She is proportionate and healthy and he feels that is all that matters. I think if you disagree with your doctor, maybe you need to find another who is more in line with what you believe is best for your child. If you are breastfeeding and don't want to suppliment, then don't, as long as your baby is healthy, that is all that matters!
Same here! My third child was in the 100% until he was two when he dropped to 90%
He was a big baby from the start and my girls before him were always in the 76-80 as big babies and then they slendered out and they were all formula fed.
I completely agree if you don’t agree with your dr find another one we did when we had or second child because we finally stood up to the led we had she never listened to us about anything. Love our dr now!
The information is based on statistics. Statistically BF babies are bigger the first 6 months and then slimmer later on. But of course there are always exceptions. Not to mention that all babies are bigger in the beginning and then slim up as they get mobile.
Thank you so much for this! The ped just gave me a speech because my girl is too small and told me to stop breastfeeding her!! She's 23 months today and seems perfectly fine on this chart 😀
This is really important info. I asked my public health nurse and was happy to find out that here (in Vancouver) they use the WHO chart. Both my babies have followed the pattern of rapid weight gain then plateauing once they start crawling/walking.
This is so important to remember… I think as mothers, we worry when comparing our babies to the growth curves, but they are antiquated and not applicable to breastfed babies. I work in public health so unfortunately, I have to be very careful that I don't fall into the trap of what's "typical" and where my daughter is.
Thanks for posting this, it's very interesting to me! Even different breastfed babies grow differently from each other. My nephew is much like your LO and is breastfed and small on the CDC charts (he's tall, but skinny). He's a happy, healthy little guy though so there's nothing wrong with that! My little girl on the other hand is also breastfed, but pretty chunky, but she's also not mobile yet.
This is great info! So many docs will push formula on you the second your baby doesn't meet his expectation for weight gain… bad bad bad!
Bad? Really? Formula fed babies are just as healthy as bf babies. All that matters is that they’re fed, period. What really important is how well you eat and take care of yourself while pregnant. And by the way, doctors don’t “push” formula. It’s always just a suggestion. You know, cause some of us weren’t fortunate as all the exclusive breastfeeders to be able to bf.
My daughter was breastfed until two-years-old. She was born at 50th percentile, but I think that was because I had single umbilical artery and it restricted her growth inside. After she was born, she exploded to the 90-95th percentile for both height and weight within the first two months. Except when she had roseola just before she turned one-year-old (she dipped back down into the 80s), she stayed consistently at the same high percentile. We didn't have any weight or growth dip at all around six months and she was always a couple of sizes ahead of her age. Now, at almost five, she has settled closer to the 85-90 percentile mark. 🙂
Agh! I had several arguments with our (now ex-) pediatrician over this. She eventually referred my child to Head Start without my permission because she was so convinced that my child was malnourished and developmentally delayed in areas X, Y, and Z. I switched to another physician in the same practice, who took one look at my child and said, "She is doing beautifully in X, Y, and Z! Way to go for doing A, B, and C with your parenting!" I bet the new pediatrician was at least aware of the general trend for breastfed babies, even if he didn't use these specific charts.
23 months. You have gone from baby driven need to mommy driven need. Congratulations.
Can we just take a minute to acknowledge the CUTEST baby at the start of this article?? Look at that adorable little girl!!!
Thank you Kate. That is my third born… she's now almost 5!
Gah! Thank you SO much! My son was steadily around the 64th percentile then at his 9 month check up he had fallen to FORTH?! Such a relief! That can has been sitting unopened on my counter for almost a month… Think I'm gonna donate it! Especially considering all systems are a go with my boy.
Aubrey's Mommy, please know that children thrive on breastfeeding until 4 years old and beyond. I hope by now you've educated yourself. Utopia Yoga, rock on.
We're lucky we don't care about charts in our country as much as you do.. They're not important in fact and our docs know that… What is important is if the baby is healthy and happy… It is said that one year old baby should weigh 3x what he weighed when he was born but even this is no must.. No chart can tell you if your baby is growing as he should… There are so many other factors that doctors should think about… Remember NOT EVERYONE IS BORN TO BE AVERAGE.. The world would be boring if mother nature made us all the same, average… Even if your baby doesn't fit any chart, it doesn't mean he's starving! You know your baby the best, no chart can tell you better..
My son has only had breast milk and is 33 lb at 10 mo! He has never really had any grains, and eats really healthy. He is just a huge kid! Every baby is so different!
The one posted has both!
Yeah… My baby girl isn't even on THOSE charts. My dr. isn't overly worried, though, because she is developing normally. He told me to start adding solids, but not formula (at 6 months).
Oh my word, my son went from 50th percentile to the 25-35th percentile. I was so worried but the doctor wasn't. However, he did recommend we start him on solid foods before I really wanted to and kept saying how breastfeeding wasn't giving any nutritional advantage after 9 months-1 year. But Lil bit is a very happy, very healthy almost 17 month old that we just weaned this last month. He transitioned very well into solid foods, eats like a champ, has gained about 40 words in the last month and has been potty training (he initiated!). I'm so glad I listened to my intuition instead of the doctor 🙂
Aubrey's mommy, I breastfed my daughter until she was three. WHO now recommends that moms should breastfeed their babies up to 2 years and beyond as long as both feel comfortable.
http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/who_charts.htm#The WHO Growth Charts
Great article, I’ve experienced this low weight gain in my exclusively breastfed doughter. Unfortunately most of the pediatritians in Turkey recommend weaning after age 1-1,5. Our society have a belief like extended breastfeeding causes less solids intake. My daughter is now 2,5 years old and she is breastfed once a day before bed time.
I am now a grandmother, but breastfed my three daughters seven years (split between the 3 of them). My daughters were all born on the large side (10 lbs, 9.5 lbs, 11 lbs), and all put on weight quickly after birth (the youngest was 16 lbs at her week 6 checkup). My youngest weighed 30 pounds by 6 months (25 lbs, and 22 lbs for the other two), and despite feeding them NOTHING other than breast milk, the doctors consistently gave me grief over their fast growth – like I was pureeing Twinkies and sneaking it to them for bragging rights or somesuch nonsense.
Although I think they’d still be 100th percentile or higher on the WHO charts, I wish it would have been available back then. Middle daughter had a sudden drop of 4 ponds at 8 months, about which her pediatricians freaked, but we eventually figured out was her metabolism shifting gears. Now my girls are grown, and the weight problems preicted have not come to pass. Trust your instincts.
What a relief to read that! My daughter was born at 8 lbs 2 oz, but gained 4 lbs her first month alone! She is now 5 months old and weighs 23 lbs on nothing but breastmilk. I’m sad to say that this chart is not making me feel better at all because it still means that my baby is freakishly huge!
Some mamas just make high fat content (full fat milk if you will) 🙂 I don’t think you can have a solely breastfed baby be truly overweight. Eventually they will not be breastfed and they will likely thin out. In fact, I feel like most of the really big babies I’ve known turn out to be thin as adults.
After nine months of specialists and tests at the children’s hospital in Nashville, my son is just small! He stopped growing at 4mo, but was already 14lb. After high calorie diets, he gained a pound between 9-12mo. We were told to use formula and mix it with my breastmilk. After exclusively pumping for two weeks, my supply was nearly gone and we went back to just nursing on demand and giving one bottle of formula a day. He still didn’t gain weight (or height). Took an endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, dietician, two nutritionists, a developmental pediatrician and a geneticist to tell me what I already knew: your son is just small. They put him on medical food to bulk his weight, so he’s shot up to around 50%, but his height is still about 1-3%. He’s not supposed to be huge, but they want him to be. He’s 18mo now and we still nurse even though I’m 38wks pregnant. He has always had a health appetite, just burns through food faster. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on breastfeeding like I did when my older son went through this. I knew better this time around.
Why, why did i not read this article before? I have been through so much, just because my breast fed baby for 1 year fell off the charts. I was asked to give her duocal, add on formula and what not. I can never forget waking up in the middle of the night and wondering what i am doing wrong. I finally gave up and yes, she is smaller than a lot of kids in her class (as am i at 5’0) but she is bright and smart. Thank you for sharing this article. My eyes well up thinking of those days. I breast fed my baby for a full two years and she is a bright, active, talkative child.
As a recent, 4 month grandfather, I appreciate this post and think your daughter is precious. We worry continuously about our grandson, this post is so refreshing. Thank you.
This is good to know, thanks!
Cutest baby ever! Oh my goodness.
I love this and I wish more mamas were aware of it. Thankfully I had come across this info prior to my daughter’s 9 month appointment because otherwise I would’ve been worried. She followed the typical pattern of fast growing the first six month and then slowed way down. Still healthy as could be though. Great article!
I wish I would have read this article when my doctor told me “I wasn’t feeding my baby enough”. My daughter wasn’t following the curve, and dropping well below average, when she was about 6 months. I drove home from the doctor’s crying that day, but luckily was strong enough to trust that how I was feeding my baby was exactly what she needed. I never supplemented, and my daughter is now close to 2, much above average for both weight and height. Thank you for this article, all of it makes a lot more sense to me now.
I agree with this so much for others, however, my breastfed son was the other way around! Was born heavy on the 91st centile, dropped to the 25th centile until 6 months when he started solids and began to climb back up to the 91st. I guess my milk supply was maybe too little? And he certainly loved being on solids!
My son was born at 25 weeks, these charts do NOT apply to micro preemies. He’s now 9 months and weighs a healthy 15 pounds! We’re on our chart system… it’s called one day at a time. =]
Love your blog. Was curious, does the fall weight gain for breastfed babies below formula fed also apply to breastfed babies who also start food at 4-6 months? I’m wondering if this is the confounding variable.
That’s a really interesting question Wendy. I think it 6 month dip does still apply to babies who start solids at 4-6 months. I think on the whole formula fed and breastfed babies start solids at around the same age so that shouldn’t factor into the dip. It is of course possible for a dip to be associated with solids IF the baby hasn’t started solids yet. For instance, my babies don’t start solids until 9 months… but in reality, babies aren’t getting much calories until they really start eating at around 12-18months so solids shouldn’t change their weight that much.
This isn’t true! Most pediatrician will use the WHO chart for the first 2 years of life because it is more accurate than the CDC chart in breast fed babies! After 2 years, there is a switch to the CDC chart.
Sadly it is true. While many pediatricians are using the WHO chart there are still many who do not. Trust me, I’ve thought about editing this post but just when I’m about to I hear from yet another person who’s doctor was still using the CDC chart.
Thank you so much for sharing this important information! So many parents get scared when their pediatrician tells them that their breastfed baby is falling off their growth curve. We need to be informed advocates for our kiddos and ask questions like what chart is being used so that we can make the best decisions for our babies.
Well, it doesn’t matter which chart I use, my breastfed 11-month-old daughter is still in the 98th percentile for height and the 125th for weight. Now guess what the whole world has to say about that!