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 that little baby could talk and let you know when enough was enough, or when more is needed.
If you can gain a better understanding regarding newborns’ appetites, you will be able to better understand that little baby of yours.
How Often Will My Newborn Eat?
It is likely your newborn will want to eat about every 2 to 3 hours. They are the masters of mini-meals; so, 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 he or she 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.
It’s important your newborn does not go longer than 4 to 5 hours without a feeding.
Why Do Newborns Feed Often?
Newborns feed frequently because their stomachs are small and can only hold tiny amounts of milk. Experts say that by 10 days of age, 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. What researchers have found a newborn’s stomach capacity is about 20ml (0.6oz), and it takes about an hour for baby to digest this amount. This fits perfectly with baby’s one-hour sleep cycle. (1)
Formula takes longer to break down, so your baby will not want to eat as often (2).
Is My Baby Hungry?
If your baby is hungry, he or she 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 head from side to side.
- Constantly opening mouth.
- Sucking on hands.
- Puckering the lips to indicate sucking.
- Sticking out the tongue.
- Nuzzling against the breast.
It is possible your baby does 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, he or she will exhibit signs that let you know enough is enough.
It is important to take note of these signs because overfeeding can lead to unnecessary spit-up.
- Slowing down.
- Spitting out bottle nipple.
- Unlatching from the breast.
- Closing mouth.
- Turning away from breast or bottle.
If your baby does these things once, it may be an accident or because he or she needs to burp. Try to continue the feeding once more. If any of the signs persist, then end the feeding.
Breastfed babies will often fall asleep at the breast – and it can be hard to know if you should unlatch them. In fact, each time you try to take them off the breast, they start sucking again. If your baby begins actively swallowing again after starting to suck, then he may still be hungry. Otherwise, don’t feel bad taking him 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 he or she is 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 him to gain about a ½ ounce to 1 ounce per day. Your baby should be back to birth weight by 10 to 14 days.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
If you have any questions regarding feedings, this is also a great time for you to receive answers to those.
In general, other signs to help you determine if your breastfed baby is actually getting enough include:
- Having 6 to 8 wet diapers a day.
- At least 3 bowel movements per day the size of a US quarter or larger.
- Increasing alertness when awake.
- Gaining weight.
If your baby seems fussy or dissatisfied after a feeding, it is possible he or she isn’t getting enough.
For breastfeeding moms, the visual confirmation is out of the picture and this can make it much more difficult 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 then give your baby a bottle. This is typically only recommended if you are going to be away from your baby, or if you are very concerned about weight gain. Work closely with a lactation consultant to be sure 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, a curveball can be thrown your way. Sometimes babies tend to go longer periods of time between feedings, and then eat many times in a row — this is called cluster feeding. This usually occurs in the evening, and it is not abnormal.
When a baby does this, it is usually followed by a longer sleep period. If your baby seems to want to be fed literally every hour for a decent part of the day, it could be because he or she is fueling up for a long sleep.
Cluster feeding typically only takes place in 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 have mom feeling crazy.
If your baby behaves in 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 Baby For Feedings?
In the first few weeks of your newborn’s life, it is possible your baby will snooze right through a feeding.
It is essential a baby receives all necessary feedings because the tummy is so small and can empty relatively quickly.
If you are breastfeeding and your baby sleeps for more than 3 hours, it is important you wake your baby up for you to maintain your milk supply. A formula-fed baby can sleep for about 4 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 a good thing to let your baby go for longer periods without feeding.
It may seem impossible, but your baby will eventually make the transition to sleeping through the night without food. In the meantime, your newborn needs all the nutrients he or she can get!
Some advise that once your baby has reached birth weight (after the weight dip many newborns have initially after birth), you no longer need to wake baby if he sleeps through a feeding. If your baby is consistently sleeping through feedings, you should ask your doctor’s opinion on waking your baby up.
Each baby is different and it is best to be on the safe side and seek the advice of your doctor.
Your baby will go through many changes in the first year of life, and many of them have to do with feeding patterns. In this first year, your baby will transition from a liquid diet to one driven by solids.
Familiarizing yourself with the monthly transitions is beneficial.
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. It is possible your baby will 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!
Your baby’s tummy has increased in size, and your baby should now be able to consume 5 to 6 ounces of milk per feeding. A breastfed baby may still be feeding often, but may be taking more per feeding with fewer feedings throughout the day.
From age 1 month to age 6 months, breastfed babies eat about 25 ounces per day (average range 19 ounces to 30 ounces) . If your baby still breastfeeds 10 times per day, then he’s eating about 2.5 ounces at a time. If he nurses only 5 times per day, then he’s 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 are feeding your baby each time or expressing 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. This is actually not advised as it can cause other complications for your baby. Most solids should be held off until around the 6-month mark.
Your baby still relies on getting all of its nutrition through breastmilk 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 if it was cutting back on feedings, and then all of a sudden your baby wants extra feedings for more than one day. If this happens, it is likely 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 one-year-old and a newborn. Your baby needs that extra energy to help 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 major milestone — your baby is halfway to a year old. 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 at 6 months, but milk is still essential. 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:
- Able to stay in a sitting position.
- Holds head steady.
- Has eye-hand coordination, to be able to pick food up and bring it to the mouth.
- Shows interest in watching parents 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 consisting of solids per day. From 6 months to one year, though, breastmilk or formula should still be your baby’s main source of calories.
You should start out with small amounts of solids and gradually increase them. Remember to introduce one new food at a time to monitor possible food allergies (8).
Keep In Mind
All babies are different and the above 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 him to finish a bottle if he’s no longer hungry.
If you are formula feeding your baby and the bottle is always finished quickly, add more formula to the bottle. Don’t hold back because your baby is above average. As long as your doctor is happy with your baby’s progress, you have nothing to worry about.
Some babies do start eating solids before 6 months, and some babies start eating them after. If your doctor advises it and your baby is showing 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 do. You will learn to know when your baby is full, and when your baby wants 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.