Do you have to feed a newborn every 3 hours?

Whether you need to feed a newborn baby every 3 hours is a common question for new parents. The frequency of feeding can seem overwhelming at first, but it’s important for a baby’s health and growth. There are some guidelines around feeding frequency, but each baby is different. Read on for more details on newborn feeding schedules.

How often should you feed a newborn?

In the early days after birth, newborns need to be fed about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. That works out to a feeding every 2 to 3 hours. More specifically, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:

  • Newborns should eat 8 to 12 times per day for the first several months.
  • Breastfed babies will likely want to eat more frequently, such as every 1 1/2 to 3 hours.
  • Formula-fed babies may go 3 to 4 hours between feedings.

So in general, you can expect a newborn to eat at least every 2 to 3 hours, day and night, in the early months. But every baby is unique, so it’s important to look for your baby’s feeding cues and patterns.

Why is frequent feeding important?

There are several reasons it’s recommended to feed a newborn frequently, about every 2 to 3 hours:

  • Babies have tiny stomachs that can only hold a small amount at a time.
  • Frequent feeding helps establish good milk supply for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Babies need to eat often to get the calories they need to grow and gain weight appropriately.
  • Feeding every 2-3 hours helps prevent newborn jaundice.
  • Frequent feedings can help soothe a fussy or colicky baby.

During growth spurts, some babies may need to feed even more frequently for a few days. By always feeding on demand, you ensure your baby gets enough nutrition during these crucial early months.

Feeding cues

Rather than watching the clock, it’s better to watch your baby for feeding cues. Signs that your newborn is hungry include:

  • Moving their heads from side to side
  • Bringing hands to mouth
  • Sticking out tongue
  • Puckering lips
  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Sucking or rooting motions
  • Increased alertness or activity
  • Crying

Try to feed your baby before crying starts, as crying is a late feeding cue. But absolutely feed your baby if they are crying, as hunger is likely the reason.

How much does a newborn eat?

Newborns have tiny tummies, so they don’t eat very much at each feeding. Here are some general guidelines on intake:

  • Breastfed babies take in around 25 to 35 ml (0.8 to 1.2 ounces) per feeding in the first few days. Intake gradually increases over time.
  • Formula-fed newborns may take 15 to 60 ml (0.5 to 2 ounces) per feeding at first.

Both breastfed and formula-fed babies will eat bigger volumes as they grow. A key feeding cue is that your baby seems satisfied after eating. Their tummy should feel full but not overly tight.

What affects newborn feeding frequency?

While most newborns need to feed every 2 to 3 hours on average, a number of factors can affect their optimal feeding frequency:

Breastfed vs formula fed

How often your baby needs to eat depends partly on if they are breastfed or formula fed:

  • Breastfed babies tend to eat more often because breast milk digests faster. Expect a breastfed newborn to feed around 8 to 12 times or more per day.
  • Formula-fed newborns may go a bit longer between feedings, such as every 3 to 4 hours. But they still need to eat frequently, about 6 to 8 feedings per day.

Premature babies

Babies born preterm often need to eat more frequently than full-term babies, sometimes every 1.5 to 2 hours. Their tiny tummies and special nutritional needs lead to shorter intervals between feeds.

Medical conditions

Newborns with certain medical conditions like jaundice, low blood sugar, or slow weight gain may also need to eat more often than every 2 to 3 hours. Always follow your pediatrician’s instructions if your baby has a condition requiring extra feedings.

Growth spurts

During growth spurts, which are periods of rapid growth, a baby may suddenly want to feed very frequently. This helps increase your milk supply to meet their needs. Growth spurts often occur around 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months of age.

Day vs night

Newborns feed around the clock. But some parents notice their newborns tend to eat more frequently during the day, such as every 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Then they can sleep slightly longer stretches, like 4 hours, at night between feeds.


As babies grow beyond the newborn stage, they become more efficient at feeding and can go longer between meals. Feeding frequency decreases over the first year.

Individual needs

Every baby is unique. While most newborns follow the general guidelines, some babies simply have higher or lower appetites that affect how often they need to eat. Pay attention to your own baby’s patterns rather than focusing on the clock.

Tips for feeding a newborn every 2-3 hours

Feeding a newborn around the clock every few hours can be tiring! Here are some tips to make it a bit easier:

  • Take turns with a partner so you can get rest.
  • If breastfeeding, express milk so someone else can occasionally feed.
  • Let your baby sleep undisturbed as long as possible between feeds.
  • Nap when the baby naps during the day.
  • Keep diapering supplies, water, and snacks handy for night feeds.
  • Go to bed early to bank more sleep.
  • Accept help from family and friends.

While feeding a newborn every 2-3 hours is demanding, remind yourself that this phase is temporary. Babies start sleeping longer stretches and eating less frequently as they grow. For now, enjoy these special times nourishing your baby.

Tracking and ensuring adequate feeds

In the early months, it can help to keep track of your baby’s feeds. You can use a simple paper log or an app to record:

  • Time feeding started and ended
  • Which side you fed from or amount of formula given
  • Wet and dirty diapers
  • Any issues like fussiness or spit up

This helps you ensure your baby is eating often enough. It also helps identify patterns so you can better respond to their needs. Your pediatrician may ask you to track feeds if your baby has jaundice, low weight gain, or other issues.

Other than tracking, how do you know if your baby is getting enough to eat? Signs of adequate intake include:

  • 6-8 wet diapers and 3-4 dirty diapers (poops) per day
  • Soft, satisfied disposition after eating
  • Steady weight gains
  • Normal alertness when awake
  • Meeting developmental milestones


If your breastfed baby is extremely fussy or your doctor is concerned about low weight gain, they may recommend supplementing with some formula. This gives extra calories between breastfeeds. You can try the following supplementing methods:

  • Cup feeding formula or expressed breast milk
  • Spoon feeding
  • Supplemental nursing system
  • Finger feeding formula

Work closely with a lactation consultant so supplementing does not interfere with your breast milk production and supply.

Sample newborn feeding schedules

While you should feed on demand rather than a strict schedule, it can be helpful to see some sample schedules. Here are two examples.

Breastfed newborn

Time Feeding
7 AM Breastfeed
9:30 AM Breastfeed
12 PM Breastfeed
2:30 PM Breastfeed
5 PM Breastfeed
7:30 PM Breastfeed
10 PM Breastfeed
1 AM Breastfeed
3:30 AM Breastfeed
6 AM Breastfeed

For this breastfed newborn, feeds are about every 2-3 hours during the day and night.

Formula fed newborn

Time Feeding
7 AM 3 ounces formula
11 AM 3.5 ounces formula
3 PM 3.5 ounces formula
7 PM 4 ounces formula
11 PM 4 ounces formula
3 AM 4 ounces formula

This formula-fed newborn eats about every 3-4 hours. Feed volumes increase at the nighttime feedings when babies tend to eat more.


Should I wake my newborn to feed?

In most cases, you don’t need to wake a sleeping newborn for feeds. Healthy babies will naturally wake when hungry. But do wake your baby if:

  • Your doctor recommends it, like if your baby has jaundice or low weight gain.
  • Your baby is premature.
  • Your baby slept longer than 5 hours and it’s time to feed again.
  • Your breasts are overly full if breastfeeding.

How do I know if my newborn is eating enough?

Signs your baby is getting enough to eat include:

  • Steady weight gain
  • 6-8 wet diapers and 3-4 soiled diapers per day
  • Satisfied between feeds
  • Normal alertness while awake
  • Meeting milestones like good head control

Talk to your pediatrician right away if you are concerned your baby is not eating enough or gaining weight properly.

Is it possible to overfeed a newborn?

It’s very difficult to overfeed a breastfed baby, as they naturally stop eating when full. Some signs of overfeeding with formula include:

  • Consistently spitting up or vomiting large amounts
  • Very gassy or fussy after eating
  • Excessive sleepiness or difficulty waking for feeds
  • Constant diarrhea

If you notice these signs, try burping more frequently during feeds and offering smaller volumes of formula at a time.


Feeding a newborn every 2 to 3 hours is demanding but lays the foundation for health, growth, and development. While each baby is unique, most need to eat 8 to 12 times per day in the early months whether breast or formula fed. Focus on feeding when your baby shows cues like increased alertness, rooting, and sucking motions rather than the clock. With time, you and your baby will establish a feeding rhythm that works for you both.

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