Does your newborn barely seem like they’re taking anything in during feedings? How do you know if your baby is eating enough?
Many parents struggle with learning to read their baby’s feeding cues. If only your little baby could talk and let you know when enough was enough or when more is needed.
If you can gain a better understanding of newborns’ appetites, you will be able to understand your baby better.
- Newborns need to eat often, around every 2-3 hours, due to their small stomachs and fast digestion of breast milk.
- Signs of hunger include moving their head side to side, opening their mouth, and crying.
- A full baby might slow down, unlatch from the breast, or turn away from the bottle.
- Keep track of wet diapers, bowel movements, alertness, and weight gain to ensure your baby is getting enough nourishment.
How Often Will My Newborn Eat?
Your newborn will likely want to eat about every two to three hours. They are the masters of mini-meals; while they will eat often, they won’t eat much during one sitting.
If your baby is formula-fed, you can multiply your baby’s weight by 2.5 to see how many ounces they should consume each day. A 7-pound baby would need about 17.5 ounces of formula in 24 hours. Most breastfed babies eat around 20 to 30 ounces a day.
Your newborn should not go longer than four to five hours without a feeding.
Why Do Newborns Feed Often?
Newborns need to eat often because their stomachs are small and can only hold tiny amounts of milk. Experts say that by 10 days of age, a baby’s tummy is about the size of a golf ball. And that golf ball would hold about 2 ounces.
Breastfed babies tend to eat more often than formula-fed babies because breast milk breaks down faster in their stomachs. Researchers have found that a newborn’s stomach capacity is about 20 milliliters (0.6 ounces), and it takes about an hour for a baby to digest this amount. This fits perfectly with a baby’s one-hour sleep cycle. (1)
Formula takes longer to break down, so a formula-fed baby will not want to eat as often (2).
Is My Baby Hungry?
If your baby is hungry, they will try to let you know. Crying is a late sign of hunger — so it’s a good thing your baby exhibits other signs that can help signal to you it is time for them to eat. These include:
- Moving their head from side to side.
- Constantly opening their mouth.
- Sucking on their hands.
- Puckering the lips to indicate sucking.
- Sticking out their tongue.
- Nuzzling against the breast.
Your baby may do some of the above items for many different reasons, but you should always offer a feeding to see if hunger is the culprit (3).
Is My Baby Full?
If your baby is ready to be done with feeding, they will exhibit signs that let you know enough is enough.
Take note of the following signs because overfeeding can lead to unnecessary spit-up.
- Slowing down.
- Spitting out the bottle nipple.
- Unlatching from the breast.
- Closing their mouth.
- Turning away from the breast or bottle.
If your baby does these things once, it may be an accident or because they need to burp. Try to continue the feeding once more. If any of the signs persist, end the feeding.
Breastfed babies will often fall asleep at the breast, and it can be hard to know if you should unlatch them. Often, when you try to take them off the breast, they start sucking again. If your baby begins actively swallowing again after starting to suck, then they may still be hungry. Otherwise, don’t feel bad about taking them off the breast.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Is My Baby Getting Enough?
It can be difficult to know if your baby is getting enough to eat, especially if you are breastfeeding.
You will typically have an appointment with your pediatrician just a few days after birth. During this time, your doctor will check your baby’s weight, and as long as your baby is gaining weight, the amount they are eating should be just fine.
While it’s normal for your baby to lose a little weight in the first few days, the doctor will expect them to gain about 0.5 ounces to 1 ounce per day. Your baby should be back to their birth weight by 10 to 14 days.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
If you have any questions regarding feedings, this is also an excellent time for you to receive answers to those.
In general, other signs to help you determine if your breastfed baby is getting enough include:
- Having six to eight wet diapers a day.
- At least three bowel movements per day the size of a U.S. quarter or larger.
- Increasing alertness when awake.
- Gaining weight.
If your baby seems dissatisfied or fussy after a feeding, they may not be getting enough.
For breastfeeding moms, the visual confirmation is out of the picture, making it much more challenging to know just how much your baby is getting. Your breasts should feel fuller before feedings and softer afterward. You should see or hear your baby swallowing throughout much of the feeding. And your baby should be relaxed and satisfied after feeding.
If you are concerned, seek the help of a trained breastfeeding professional, like a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).
Another option is to pump your breastmilk and give your baby a bottle. This is typically only recommended if you are going to be away from your baby or are very concerned about weight gain. Work closely with a lactation consultant to ensure your baby is getting enough and your milk supply is increasing.
What Are Cluster Feedings?
Just when you think you have a handle on feedings, your baby will throw you a curveball. Sometimes babies tend to go longer periods between feedings and then eat many times in a row. This is called cluster feeding. Cluster feeding usually occurs in the evening and is totally normal.
When a baby does this, it is usually followed by a longer sleep period. If your baby seems to want to be fed every hour for a decent part of the day, it could be because they are fueling up for a long sleep.
Cluster feeding typically only happens with breastfed babies. When they cluster feed, they will likely feed for a few minutes, fuss, then feed again. This behavior can go on for hours and can be overwhelming for moms.
If your baby behaves this way, don’t immediately worry you ate something wrong or your baby isn’t getting enough milk. Cluster feeding could very well be to blame (4).
Should I Wake My Baby for Feedings?
In the first few weeks of your newborn’s life, they may sleep right through a feeding.
Your newborn needs to receive all necessary feedings because their tummy is so small and can empty relatively quickly.
If you are breastfeeding and your baby sleeps for more than three hours, wake them up so you will maintain your milk supply. A formula-fed baby can sleep for about four hours but then should be awakened to feed (5).
You should wake your baby during the first few weeks of life, but eventually, it is good to let them go for longer periods without feeding.
It may seem impossible, but they will eventually make the transition to sleeping through the night without food. In the meantime, your newborn needs all the nutrients they can get!
Some advise that once your baby has reached their birth weight (after the weight dip many newborns have initially after birth), you no longer need to wake them if they sleep through a feeding. If your baby is consistently sleeping through feedings, you should ask your doctor’s opinion on waking them up.
Each baby is different, and it is best to be on the safe side and seek your doctor’s advice.
Your baby will go through many changes in the first year of their life, and many of them have to do with feeding patterns. In the first year, they will transition from a liquid diet to one driven by solids.
It’s beneficial to familiarize yourself with the monthly transitions.
Birth to the First Month
The first month is difficult for mom and baby because you are both trying to adjust to this new life. Your newborn will be feeding what seems like all the time, and it can be hard to catch a break.
You should establish on-demand feeding with your baby if you are breastfeeding because it will help maintain your supply and keep your baby in control of the intake. Your baby may simply want a snack or a drink instead of a meal.
1 Month to 3 Months
The first month will probably seem like a big blur at this point. You probably had no idea such a tiny baby could eat so many times in one day!
By the time your baby is a few weeks old, their tummy has increased in size, and they should now be able to consume 5 to 6 ounces of milk per feeding. A breastfed baby may still be feeding often but may take more per feeding with fewer feedings throughout the day.
From 1 month to 6 months of age, breastfed babies eat approximately 25 ounces per day. If your baby still breastfeeds 10 times per day, then they’re eating about 2.5 ounces at a time. If they nurse only five times per day, then they’re likely eating about 5 ounces at a time.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
You will notice your baby’s appetite has significantly increased, and if you are breastfeeding, this may be a major cause for concern. The good news is your body should make all the necessary adjustments on its own. As long as you breastfeed your baby when they are hungry or express milk during typical feeding times, your supply should adapt.
3 Months to 6 Months
Some parents want to quickly implement solids into their baby’s routine in hopes of getting them to sleep through the night. We don’t recommend this, as it can cause other complications for your baby. You should hold off feeding solids until around the 6-month mark.
Your baby still relies on getting all of their nutrition through breast milk or formula at this stage. The 3- to 6-month age range is a time that makes many progressions and regressions.
You may think your baby is regressing because they are cutting back on feedings, and then, all of a sudden, they want extra feedings for more than one day. If this happens, it may be because your baby is going through a growth spurt.
Growth spurts occur numerous times during the first year of life. Just look at the size of a 1-year-old and a newborn. Your baby needs that extra energy to help them grow big and strong. If your baby seems to be eating and sleeping more than usual, it is probably due to growing up (7).
6 Months to 12 Months
The 6-month mark is a significant milestone. What better way to celebrate a half birthday than having the chance to eat solids for the first time.
You should start implementing solids into your baby’s diet when they are 6 months old, but milk is still essential. Their first solids aren’t so much about calories. They are more of an experiment in taste and texture for your baby.
Signs your baby is ready for solids include:
- They are able to stay in a sitting position.
- They hold their head steady.
- They have hand-eye coordination to pick food up and bring it to their mouth.
- They show interest in watching others eat.
Foods your baby must avoid:
- Unpasteurized cheeses.
- Raw or partly cooked egg.
Some parents begin implementing only two meals consisting of solids, but eventually, your baby should transition to three meals per day. From 6 months to one year, though, breastmilk or formula should still be your baby’s primary source of calories.
You should start with small amounts of solids and gradually increase them. Remember to introduce one new food at a time to monitor for possible food allergies (8).
Keep In Mind
All babies are different, and our suggested averages may not apply to your baby. No one knows your baby better than you do. If you think your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, add a feeding. If you have any worries at all, consult with your pediatrician.
When breastfeeding, there isn’t really a limit on the amount your baby should eat. It’s easy to overfeed a bottle-fed baby, so be sure you watch for signs that your baby is done, and don’t force them to finish a bottle if they’re no longer hungry.
If you are formula feeding your baby and the bottle is always finished quickly, add more formula. Don’t hold back because your baby drinks more than the average. As long as your doctor is happy with your baby’s progress, you have nothing to worry about.
Some babies start eating solids before they are 6 months old, and some babies start eating them after. If your doctor advises it, and your baby is showing an increased interest in solids, go ahead and begin the transition.
The Bottom Line
In the beginning, getting to know your baby’s cues can be difficult. There is no shame in that — it just takes time.
Before you know it, you will be able to read your baby like a book. No one will know your baby better than you. You will learn to know when your baby is full and when they want more.
Your newborn may seem to be eating all the time and never come up for air, but this is normal. If you have any concerns, don’t be afraid to voice them to your pediatrician.
As long as your baby is gaining weight and seems content, all should be well. The first few months are the most challenging, but eventually, your baby’s tummy will grow, and their ability to consume more food will, too.