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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is overfeeding?

Overfeeding happens when you try to get your baby to keep feeding after he or she is full. This often starts in the newborn period. Overfeeding is more common during bottle feeding than during breastfeeding. It is easier for your baby to drink from a bottle than from a breast. Your baby may take in large amounts of formula or breast milk with each draw from the bottle. He or she may also be encouraged to finish so formula or breast milk is not wasted. Overfeeding can become a pattern that continues into adulthood. This increases your child's risk for obesity as an adult.

What increases my baby's risk for overfeeding?

  • A bottle is given every time your baby cries instead of only when he or she is hungry
  • A bottle is given to distract your baby or keep him or her busy
  • Use of bottle nipples that have large holes, allowing liquid to flow through quickly and easily
  • Cereal added to a bottle in an attempt to keep your baby full or sleeping longer during the night
  • Concern about lack of weight gain, especially if your baby was premature or had a low birth weight
  • Allowing your baby to take a bottle to bed or keep a bottle with him or her all day

How will I know if I am overfeeding my baby?

  • Many wet diapers in a day is often a sign that a baby is getting too much liquid. Your baby's pediatrician can tell you how many wet diapers are normal for your baby's age. Tell the pediatrician if the diapers are very wet and heavy.
  • Diarrhea is a sign your baby is getting more than his or her digestive system can handle.
  • Spitting up often during feedings can be a sign of overfeeding. Some spit-up is normal. It is not normal for your baby to spit up often or in large amounts.
  • Fussy or irritable behavior after a feeding may mean your baby is uncomfortable from a full stomach. He or she may also swallow air along with the liquid. This can cause painful gas or make colic worse.
  • Weight gain may be a sign of overfeeding if it continues. Your baby may gain more weight or look chubby at certain points. A growth spurt may happen soon after weight gain. Your baby's pediatrician can tell you if your baby is gaining too much weight. He or she can tell you the amount of weight your baby should safely gain each month.

What can I do to prevent overfeeding?

  • Breastfeed your baby, if possible. He or she will take smaller, slower draws of liquid. This gives his or her body time to know that it has had enough. The milk may change during a breastfeeding session and help your baby feel satisfied. You will not have to worry about wasting leftover breast milk or formula. Breastfeeding may help you recognize when your baby has had enough during any feeding. He or she may fall asleep after feeding. His or her face, arms, and hands may look relaxed. Your baby will seem calm and satisfied. You will notice the same signs during bottle feedings.
  • Check the nipple hole of your baby's bottle. Turn a filled bottle upside down. The hole should only be big enough to let 1 or 2 drops out each second. The hole is too big if liquid pours out faster than that.
  • Stop a bottle-feeding session when you see signs your baby is full. Babies naturally know when they are full. Longer pauses between sucks is a sign your baby is getting full. He or she will then give signs of being full. Depending on your baby's age, he or she may turn away from the bottle or close his or her mouth. Your baby may also try to wriggle away.
  • Stay focused on the current feeding. The amount of formula or breast milk your baby needs may change with each feeding and each day. The amount depends on his or her weight, growth rate, and hunger. Your baby may want a lot one day and not much the next. Do not expect your baby to finish a bottle just because he or she did during another feeding. If you often have leftover liquid after feedings, you are putting too much in the bottle. Try putting fewer ounces of breast milk or formula in the bottle. Feed your baby smaller amounts more often during the day.
  • Do not add cereal to your baby's bottle. Young babies are not ready for baby cereal. When your baby is old enough to have cereal, do not add it to breast milk or formula in a bottle. Feed the cereal to your baby with a spoon. Your baby may get too many calories if you add cereal to a bottle.
  • Make sure care providers know how to feed your baby. This includes babysitters, family members, and daycare providers. Give feeding instructions to each care provider. Include when to feed your baby and how much to put in a bottle for each feeding. Explain when it is okay to give your baby more if he or she is still hungry. Also explain the signs your baby gives that he or she has had enough. Ask others not to continue feeding your baby. Also ask them not to feed your baby just to get him or her to stop crying. You may need to explain ways to soothe your baby, such as playing music or going for a walk in a stroller.

How can I help my baby develop healthy habits?

  • Teach your baby healthy eating habits early. You can model healthy eating habits by limiting your portion sizes and eating a variety of healthy foods. Include vegetables, fruits, whole-grain breads and cereals, lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, and cooked beans. Your baby will be more interested in trying vegetables and other healthy foods if they are a regular part of your meals. Limit foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. As your baby gets older, help him or her understand that some foods are only for occasional treats. Do not give fruit juice to your baby until he or she is at least 1 year old.
    Healthy Foods
  • Always encourage activity. You can set a good example for your baby when he or she is very young. Make activity a part of your daily routine. Your baby will watch you and learn from your behavior. As he or she gets older, be active together. For example, go for a walk as a family after dinner. Your child should get at least 1 hour of activity each day.
    Family Walking for Exercise
  • Limit your child's screen time. Screen time is the amount of television, computer, smart phone, and video game time your child has each day. It is important to limit screen time. This helps your child get enough sleep, physical activity, and social interaction each day. Your child's pediatrician can help you create a screen time plan. The daily limit is usually 1 hour for children 2 to 5 years. The daily limit is usually 2 hours for children 6 years or older. You can also set limits on the kinds of devices your child can use, and where he or she can use them. Keep the plan where your child and anyone who takes care of him or her can see it. Create a plan for each child in your family. You can also go to for more help creating a plan.

When should I call my baby's pediatrician?

  • Your baby has new or worsening diarrhea or spit-up episodes.
  • Your baby starts vomiting after feedings.
  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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