How Often And How Much Should I Feed My Baby?

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At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we have the joy and the privilege of taking care of a lot of newborns. We also get to help parents transition into that wonderful phase of caring for a baby. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is how much parents want to make sure (especially first-time ones) if they’re feeding their baby often enough, or giving them enough at each feeding.

To help calm their fears and give some helpful guidelines, we offer this blog detailing how often, and how much, your newborn should be eating. We also have lots of other helpful information and advice for new parents on our website which you can access here.

How do I know if my baby is hungry?

Most babies are very good at letting you know they’re hungry. Common signs include:

  • crying
  • putting their hands, fingers and fists in their mouths

    Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

  • puckering their lips as if to suck
  • nuzzling again their mother’s breasts
  • demonstrating the rooting reflex (moving their mouth in the direction of something that’s stroking or touching their cheek)
  • opening their mouth
  • sticking their tongue out
  • moving their head from side to side

Despite what you might think, crying isn’t necessarily a sign of hunger

Also, when babies cry it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re hungry. Sometimes they are, certainly, but a lot of times they just need to be cuddled, changed or put to bed. Or they might be overstimulated, bored, scared, startled, or too hot or too cold. The more you get to know your baby and learn the cues of what he or she is trying to communicate, the more you’ll be able to figure out if hunger is causing the crying or if it’s something else.

Feed your baby whenever he/she seems hungry

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we strongly recommend that babies be fed whenever they’re hungry. Some newborns may need to be awakened every few hours to make sure they’re getting enough to eat (more frequently if your pediatrician is concerned about weight gain). Note: If you are having to wake your baby often to feed, or if he/she doesn’t seem interested in eating or sucking, contact your pediatrician.

Optimally, you want to feed your baby before he/she gets so hungry and upset that it’s hard to calm him/her down. A frantic, overly hungry baby is tough on everyone.

How much should my baby eat if I’m breastfeeding?

When your baby nurses, this stimulates your breasts to produce the right amount of milk to meet his/her nutritional needs. When your baby needs more (because of a growth spurt, for example) he/she nurses more, causing your body to produce more milk. Usually, babies nurse about 10-15 minutes at each breast.

One tricky part about breastfeeding is that it’s hard to measure exactly how much your baby is eating. If he/she seems satisfied after feeding, produces 4-5 wet and/or poopy diapers a day, sleeps well and is gaining weight regularly, you can be confident that he/she is eating enough. Another way to tell if your baby is getting enough is if your breasts feel full before nursing and noticeably less full afterward.

Here’s a quick guide for how much a breastfed baby should eat:

  • Most newborns eat every 2-3 hours, or 8-12 times every 24 hours. For the first 1-2 days of life might, they typically only eat ½ ounce per feeding. After that, they’ll eat 1-2 ounces per feeding, increasing to 2-3 ounces by 2 weeks of age.
  • At 2 months, babies usually eat 4-5 ounces every 3-4 hours.
  • At 4 months,they should be eating 4-6 ounces per feeding.
  • At 6 months,they should be eating 8 ounces every 4-5 hours.

Another way to gauge how much milk your baby needs is to multiply his/her weight by 2½. For example, an 8 lb. baby should be eating about 20 ounces a day.

How often should my baby eat if I’m breastfeeding?

You can expect a newborn to breastfeed as often as every 2-3 hours (or more) or 8-12 times a day. At first while your baby (and you) are still figuring out how breastfeeding works, it might take 20-45 minutes or more per feeding. The good news is that all that nursing helps stimulate your milk supply, so it’s time well spent.

As your baby’s stomach gets bigger and can hold more milk at a time, he/she will be able to go longer between feedings, usually about 3-4 hours. He/she will also get more efficient, usually taking in 90% of the milk he/she needs within the first 10 minutes of nursing.

How about if I’m feeding formula?

Ounce for ounce, formula has the same average calories as breast milk, so the total amount that breastfed vs. formula-fed babies should eat in a day is basically the same: about 2½ times the baby’s weight in pounds. A newborn’s feeding schedule for formula, however, might be a little different.

Since babies tend to digest formula more slowly, they can go longer between feedings. Your baby will likely get hungry every 3-4 hours, eating about 2 ounces per feeding as a newborn and progressing to 4 ounces by the end of the first month. Expect to add about an ounce per month until he/she is eating 6-7 ounces of formula at a time, which usually happens at 6 months of age. In general, 32 ounces of formula a day is the most your baby will ever need. (When babies are hungry for more than that, it often means they’re ready to start eating solids, which typically happens around the 6-month mark.)

What if I’m breastfeeding and formula feeding?

For mothers who combine breastfeeding and formula, there are no set rules for how often and how much a newborn should eat of each. Aim for at least 6-8 feedings per day of one or the other (this will decrease as your baby gets older), but since breast milk and formula are nutritionally equivalent, it’s simply a matter of finding the mix that works best for you and your baby.

NOTE: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. Even if you plan to eventually supplement with formula, breastfeeding during that critical period can help better establish your breast milk supply for the months ahead. To learn more about the important health benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby, read our blog on the subject.

Here’s a helpful feeding guide from TheBump.com

Want to know more about feeding your baby, how much and how often? Come see us.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to come in and talk to one of our pediatricians. We have years of experience helping parents raise healthy, happy babies and we’re ready to help you with yours in any way we can. We look forward to meeting you and your baby soon. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a practicing pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball