Does a newborn have to eat every 3 hours?

New parents often wonder how often their newborn needs to eat. There are a lot of conflicting guidelines and advice out there, so it can be confusing to know what is best. Some common questions include: Do newborns really need to eat every 2-3 hours? Is it okay if they go longer between feedings? When can they start sleeping for longer stretches at night?

The Importance of Frequent Feedings for Newborns

Many experts recommend that newborns eat every 2-3 hours in the first weeks and months of life. There are several reasons for this guidance:

  • Newborns have very small stomachs, so they can only take in a small amount of milk at each feeding. They need to eat frequently to get the calories and nutrition they require for growth and development.
  • Frequent feedings help establish and maintain milk supply. By nursing or bottle feeding often, it signals to the mother’s body to keep producing plenty of breastmilk.
  • It helps prevent newborn jaundice. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, which frequent feedings can help flush out of the body.
  • Newborns need to feed often to regain their birth weight. Most babies lose some weight in the first few days of life and need to eat frequently to get back to and surpass their original weight.

If feedings are spaced too far apart, the baby may become overly hungry and frustrated at the breast or with the bottle. This can lead to difficulty latching, not feeding efficiently, or not getting enough milk. Frequent feedings prevent this frustration and ensure the newborn stays satiated.

How Often Should a Breastfed Baby Eat?

For breastfed babies, the recommendation is to nurse at least 8-12 times or more in 24 hours. This equals a feeding about every 1.5 to 3 hours on average. However, some babies will nurse even more frequently than that, especially in the first few weeks of life as they are establishing breastfeeding rhythm and supply. Breastmilk digests faster than formula, so breastfed babies tend to eat more often than formula-fed babies. Breastfeeding on demand, rather than on a strict schedule, is recommended to make sure baby gets enough milk. Watch for early hunger cues in your breastfed newborn, such as increased alertness or mouthing motions, as signs they are ready to eat again.

How Often Should a Formula Fed Baby Eat?

For formula fed infants, the typical recommendation is to eat every 2.5-3 hours on average. Formula takes a bit longer to digest than breastmilk, so formula fed babies can go a little bit longer between feedings. However, every baby is different. Just like breastfed babies, formula fed newborns should eat on demand according to hunger cues. If they seem hungry sooner than 2.5-3 hours, feed them. Trust your baby’s signals for when they need to eat rather than sticking strictly to the clock.

At What Age Can Babies Start Going Longer Between Feedings?

While newborns need to eat around the clock every few hours, eventually they will start lasting longer between feedings or at night. Here is a general timeline:

  • Around 3-6 weeks: Some breastfed babies will sleep for one 4-5 hour stretch at night without eating. However, they still need to eat frequently, every 2-3 hours, during daytime hours.
  • Around 6-8 weeks: Breastfed and formula fed babies may start lasting 5-6 hours at night without feeding. Daytime feedings are still often every 2-3 hours.
  • 3-4 months: Baby can typically last 6-8 hours at night without eating as their stomach capacity grows. Daytime feedings may stretch to every 3-4 hours.
  • 6 months: Breastfed babies may be able to sleep up to 10 hours at night without eating. Formula fed babies may sleep 8 hours. Feedings during waking hours are every 3-4 hours typically.

Keep in mind every baby is different and may not follow these timelines exactly, but you can use it as a general guide. As solids are introduced around 6 months, meal frequency changes as well. Your pediatrician can guide you on appropriate meal and snack schedules as you transition to solid foods.

Signs Your Newborn is Eating Enough

To ensure your newborn is eating frequently enough, watch for these signs they are well-fed:

  • Steady weight gain and growth along their curve.
  • Producing the expected number of wet and dirty diapers for their age.
  • Content and satisfied after feeding, not still acting hungry.
  • Strong latch and active sucking and swallowing during feeds.
  • Waking every 2-3 hours with hunger cues ready to eat again.

If you are concerned your baby is not eating enough or isn’t getting the right frequency of feedings, consult with your pediatrician. They can check for weight gain patterns and watch feeding behavior to ensure your newborn is properly nourished.

Reasons a Newborn May Need More Frequent Feedings

While most newborns will follow the typical 2-3 hour feeding schedule, some babies need to eat even more often. Reasons your newborn may need extra frequent feeds include:

  • Prematurity. Preemies often need to eat every 1.5-2 hours to continue gaining weight and thrive.
  • Low birth weight. Smaller babies burn calories faster and may need more frequent feeds.
  • Medical conditions. Newborns with reflux, allergies, cleft lip/palate or other issues may eat more often.
  • Growth spurts. During growth spurts, clustered feeding is normal to boost calorie intake.
  • Supplementing. Babies getting supplemental pumped breastmilk or formula may need more feeds to get extra volume.
  • Establishing milk supply. Frequent nursing sessions help signal more milk production.
  • Falling asleep at the breast. Sleepy babies may need more feeds to get a full meal.

If your newborn wants to eat very frequently around the clock past the first couple weeks of life, discuss it with your pediatrician to identify any underlying issues. Frequent feeds are normal at first but if ongoing may be a sign your baby needs evaluation.

Ways to Identify Your Baby’s Hunger Cues

Rather than watching the clock, it is best to watch your baby for signs of readiness to eat. Hunger cues include:

  • Moving mouth and tongue (rooting)
  • Sucking on fist or lips
  • Increased alertness or activity
  • Crying or fussing
  • Turning head looking for food source

Try to feed your baby before excessive crying, which is a late hunger cue. With time, you will learn your baby’s unique signals that they are ready to eat again. Responding early to hunger cues will help ensure successful, satisfying feedings.

Tips for Managing Round-the-Clock Newborn Feedings

Feeding a newborn every few hours can certainly be tiring for parents. Here are some tips to make the frequent feeding schedule more manageable:

  • Take shifts. Split nighttime duties so each parent can get uninterrupted sleep for part of the night.
  • Nap when baby naps. Rest whenever you can, even if just catnapping when the baby sleeps.
  • Accept help. Let family and friends lend a hand with meals and household chores.
  • Make stations. Have diapering, feeding and soothing stations around the house and nursery.
  • Stock up. Keep water, snacks and anything needed for feeding within arm’s reach.
  • Prioritize self-care. Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed – doing small tasks can boost mental health.

While the frequent newborn feeding schedule is demanding, keep in mind that it is temporary. Your baby will start lasting longer between feeds and sleeping for longer stretches at night as they grow. For now, snuggle that tiny newborn close and cherish these special feeding sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my newborn want to eat constantly?

It is very common for newborns to cluster feed, or want to eat constantly, especially in the evenings. Reasons may include growth spurts, establishing milk supply, comfort nursing, or getting extra calories if they did not eat well earlier. Frequent nursing sessions should last a few days – if ongoing, contact your pediatrician.

How do I know if my newborn is getting enough to eat?

Look for steady weight gain, producing enough wet/dirty diapers for their age, contentment after feeding, strong sucking and swallowing, and hunger again every 2-3 hours. If concerned, consult your pediatrician.

Is it OK to let a newborn sleep longer between feedings?

In the early weeks, you need to wake your newborn to feed at least every 2-3 hours, even at night, until they regain their birth weight and pediatrician approves longer stretches. After that, you can allow one longer sleep of 4-5 hours but not throughout the day.

Should I wake my newborn to eat at night?

In the first 2-3 weeks, yes, you need to wake your newborn if they sleep longer than 3 hours – their stomach capacity is too small and they need the calories. After they reach their birth weight and your pediatrician approves, you can let them sleep one longer stretch at night if they do so naturally.

Why does my newborn eat so slowly?

Newborns are still learning how to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing while eating. Take your time with feedings and offer short breaks as needed. Check with your pediatrician if you are concerned about slow eating.


While it may be an adjustment, feeding your newborn every 2-3 hours in the early months is recommended to help them gain weight, establish breastfeeding, and provide the nutrition they require. Look for hunger cues, respond promptly, and know that as your baby grows their feeding schedule will naturally stretch out. If you have any concerns, your pediatrician can provide guidance on your specific baby’s needs. With time and patience, you and your little one will get the hang of these early frequent feedings.

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