Are you wondering how often to breastfeed your baby? Or perhaps how frequently you need to be preparing a bottle? Can you follow a baby feeding schedule? Feeding the baby is one important thing that a new parent must learn and become accustomed to.
Feeding your baby is how they will get their nutritional needs and grow – and is also one important way you will meet their needs and bond with them. Learning when to feed them is one aspect of this new responsibility. It may feel overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon know just when it’s time for their next nursing session or bottle.
Feeding your newborn
How much should a newborn be eating?
When your baby is born, their stomach is extremely small and will only hold small amounts of milk that will digest quickly, making it necessary for them to eat often. It’s best to feed your baby according to their hunger cues, and that will likely end up being about every 1-3 hours in the first days, or 8-12 times in 24 hours.
Feeding your baby 8-12 times a day is a lot. As time passes and they get a little bit older, they will be able to eat more with each feeding session and won’t need to eat as frequently. You will be able to have more time between each feed.
In the meantime, though, it’s important to feed them frequently – following their hunger cues – to meet their nutritional needs at this critical time. If you’re breastfeeding, frequent feeds will also help stimulate breastmilk production and help your body know how much milk to make for your baby.
Nursing might last about 20 minutes on each breast – but this varies widely for everyone. Babies might nurse for longer or shorter amounts of time depending on the baby’s latch and swallow, the mother’s milk supply, the strength of the milk letdown, and how quickly the milk flows. Additionally, some nursing sessions might be long while others will be short. The Baby Daybook app can help you track how long and how frequently your baby is eating.
Bottle-fed newborns will probably drink 1-2 ounces each feed once they’re a couple of days old and 2-3 ounces each feed once they’re 2 weeks old. This will gradually increase as they get older.
Feeding on demand
It’s recommended that instead of following a schedule for your baby, that you feed them on demand, which is also called “responsive feeding”. All this means is that you feed them when they’re hungry by following their hunger cues, and responding to those cues. This will likely end up being about every 1-3 hours in the very early days. The time between each feed is counted from the beginning of one feed to the next.
Responsive feeding is important because it means following your baby’s hunger cues instead of overriding them. This could help your child follow their own hunger cues and self-regulate later in their life. Responsive feeding can help develop healthy eating habits and might even decrease the risk of obesity and being overweight later in life.
Responding to your baby’s hunger cues can also create positive and easier mealtimes and help facilitate bonding between the two of you.
Even as your baby gets older, there will be variations in the times and amounts that they eat due to growth spurts, sickness, and other factors.
Baby hunger cues
So, how do you know when your baby is hungry? Your baby will give you signs that they’re hungry. The early signs of hunger are subtle, but easy to spot if you know what to look for. Crying is a late sign of hunger and it’s best to start feeding them before they get to that point.
Baby hunger cues include:
- Becoming alert
- Bringing their hands to their mouth
- Sucking on their hands
- Smacking and moving their lips
- Becoming restless
- Flexing arms and legs
- Closing fists
- Fussing and crying
It is much easier to feed your baby if you can catch early cues and start nursing before they are upset and need to be calmed down.
Feeding at night
Do you have to feed your baby frequently at night also? If they’re asleep, do you have to wake them up to eat? It’s very normal for new babies to be hungry at night and want to still eat frequently. In fact, new babies may even take in 20% of their calories during nighttime hours.
Even if they’re tired enough to sleep well at night, newborns shouldn’t go more than four hours in between feeds until their doctor approves otherwise. This means that if it’s been four hours since their last feed, you should wake them up to feed them. Check with your baby’s doctor about when you can let them continue sleeping. Usually, they’ll give the okay once your baby has regained their birthweight which might be around 2 weeks old.
After that, they can go longer than 4 hours between their feeds at night, but it’s likely that they’ll still wake up hungry at night.
Yes, this is exhausting and can be very hard. Remember that it’s still important to meet your baby’s hunger needs at night and that their need to eat at night won’t last forever.
Ensuring your baby is getting enough to eat
If you’re unsure if your baby is getting enough milk, there are signs you can watch for. When your baby is finished eating, they will stop sucking, turn their head, or close their mouth. You can try burping and giving them a little break before offering more milk. If they continue to close their mouth or turn away, don’t push it.
While your baby is eating, you should be able to see or hear them sucking and swallowing.
After eating, your baby should be content and happy. Their hands will often be relaxed and open after feeding. If they’re getting enough food, they will consistently have wet and dirty diapers.
After 5 days old, your baby should have about 6 wet diapers and 3 bowel movements a day. After 6 weeks, they poop less frequently but should still have regular bowel movements. The Baby Daybook app can help you track their diapers.
Your baby might not be getting enough if they’re lethargic or appear to have low energy, if their latch appears shallow or is painful, if they have slow weight gain, or are not having wet or dirty diapers. Talk to the baby’s doctor promptly if you’re worried they aren’t getting enough food.
Baby feeding schedule by age
When does a baby fall into a schedule?
Don’t try to push a feeding schedule on your newborn baby. Scheduling baby’s feeds before 6 weeks has actually been found to be correlated with poor weight gain. Scheduling can also impact milk production negatively for nursing moms, so you want to be sure that your milk supply seems to be well established before trying to move to more of a schedule.
Your baby will probably fall into a routine sometime after 2 months – but every baby is different. It’s okay if your baby’s feeds are never really scheduled, it’s more important that they are being fed when they’re hungry.
After 6 months, when your baby starts eating solids, it’s likely that they will have meals with the rest of the family and this will further encourage routine eating times.
How to get your baby on a feeding schedule
It’s okay to offer feeds with regularity, if a schedule works best for you. Even then, try to honor their fullness and hunger. If you choose to offer feeds at certain times to encourage a schedule be sure to still meet your baby’s hunger cues and feed them on demand – regardless of if it’s at the time you were hoping for.
Feed your baby when they are hungry, and don’t try to force them to eat when they’re not interested. Your baby will more than likely fall into a typical schedule, even if not every day is the exact same. Tracking when they eat can help you notice any patterns and know what to generally expect.
Baby feeding schedule by month
Regardless of what time your baby eats, they will eat about 8-12 times per day as a newborn. At 2 months, it will be more like 7-9 times a day. As they get older, they will need to eat less frequently with longer stretches of time between feedings, ultimately eating about every 3-4 hours.
Baby feeding schedule with solids
When your baby starts eating solids at 4-6 months, breastmilk or formula will still be their most important form of nutrition for a while. If they seem less interested in nursing at this time, try nursing them before they eat solids.
They will probably need to eat or drink something every 2-3 hours or about 5-6 times a day, although this can still be different for each baby. They will gradually drink less milk as they eat more solids in their diet, but you can continue to offer them milk and encourage the breast and bottle.
As your baby starts having meals with the rest of the family, with snacks or milk in between, a routine will be further established.
Keeping track of your baby’s feeding schedule
Keeping up with all the essential schedules and details for your newborn, including your baby’s feedings, can be challenging. However, it is crucial to your baby’s health and well-being to ensure they consume enough food and produce the right amount of wet diapers. Baby Daybook can help you track when and how often to breastfeed or prepare a bottle, among other things. You can even monitor your baby’s growth and set reminders for feeding times. Plus, you can share the schedule with others, helping to care for your little one. Let Baby Daybook help you keep track of your baby’s feeding schedule so you will have one less thing to worry about.
American Academy of Pediatrics. 2023. How Often and How Much Should Your Baby Eat? www.healthychildren.org. [Accessed August 2023]
American Academy of Pediatrics. 2023. Is Your Baby Hungry or Full? Responsive Eating Explained. www.healthychildren.org [Accessed August 2023]
CDC. How Much and How Often to Breastfeed. 2022. www.cdc.gov [Accessed August 2023]
La Leche League, n.d. Frequency of Feeding. www.llli.org [Accessed August 2023]
Mayo Clinic. 2022. Feeding your newborn: Tips for new parents. www.mayoclinic.org [Accessed August 2023]
Mayo Clinic. 2022. Should I wake my newborns for feedings? www.mayoclinic.org [Accessed August 2023]
Nemours Kids Health. 2019. Breastfeeding FAQs: How Much and How Often. kidshealth.org [Accessed August 2023]