Managing Baby Weight Loss When You’ve Been Told to Give Formula

If you’ve just had a baby chances are you’re aware of the normal weight loss newborns experience during the first week of life. Different countries have varying practices but newborns are commonly weighed between Day 3 – Day 5 post birth, and we expect they will lose some weight. Weight loss up to about 8% of their birth weight is considered normal. Some areas say 10%, but if your baby is approaching 9-10% that’s definitely a sign that further investigation is required.

Why do our babies lose weight?

To understand this we need to first understand their feeding habits during the first few days of life. A baby’s stomach capacity at birth is somewhere in the region of about 5-7ml (this is about a teaspoon!). Babies are accustomed to having nutrition 24/7 in utero, so they must slowly ‘wean’ themselves off this after birth (so that explains that very frequent feeding in the first few days!). Human colostrum contains all the nutrients our babies need in the first few days of life – including immunoglobulins (to build a health immune system and protect against illness), growth factors (supporting normal growth and development, and also protecting against gastrointestinal conditions), antimicrobials (protecting against infection) as well as protein, carbohydrates and fats. Until the development of antibiotics in the early 20th century, colostrum (both human and bovine) was used to treat a variety of illnesses in adults!

Not only do babies have a small stomach capacity at birth, but colostrum is also low in caloric density and low in fat. It’s a nutrient powerhouse of immunoglobulins, growth factors and protein – colostrum is about 3.7% protein, 5.3% carbohydrate and 2.9% fat. This changes slightly as our milk matures (after day 3-4) as the fat content increases. Colostrum only contains about 60 kcals per 100ml – now if we imagine our baby might only be taking 5-10ml of this, we can see how that energy will be used by the body very quickly, resulting in weight loss. Imagine you spend your whole day eating fruit and salads – you’re filling your body with wonderful, live nutrition but you’ll probably find that you eat lots regularly to keep yourself satiated through the day! It’s also important to understand that our babies are supposed to lose some weight, and nature has prepared for this. Babies will almost double their weight between 32 weeks and 40 weeks of pregnancy. Some of this gain is them laying down extra fat stores, in preparation for those first few days feeding on colostrum. So for healthy, term babies, where there aren’t any apparent feeding issues, losing 5-7% of their birth weight is very normal. We should then see that they start to regain this lost weight by about 10 -14 days old.

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