Newborns need to eat frequently in the first few months of life to help them grow and develop properly. Knowing how often to feed a newborn can help ensure they are getting adequate nutrition. This article provides guidelines on feeding frequency for newborns based on their age and other factors.
Newborn Feeding Frequency Guidelines
Most experts recommend feeding a newborn 8 to 12 times per day. However, every baby is different and may need more or less frequent feedings. Here are some general guidelines on newborn feeding frequency in the first few months:
- 0-1 month: Feed 8-12 times per day, about every 1.5-3 hours on demand.
- 1-2 months: Feed 8-12 times per day, about every 2-3 hours on demand.
- 2-3 months: Feed 7-9 times per day, about every 3-4 hours on demand.
Newborns should be fed whenever they show signs of hunger, such as increased alertness, mouthing, rooting, and sucking on their hands. Allowing on-demand feeding helps ensure babies eat an adequate amount and prevents low blood sugar levels.
How Stomach Size Affects Feeding Frequency
The frequency of newborn feeding is often driven by their tiny stomach capacities, especially in the early months. Here’s how a newborn’s stomach size changes over time:
- Birth to 1 week: 5-7 ml per feed
- 2 weeks to 1 month: 22-27 ml per feed
- 1-2 months: 45-60 ml per feed
- 3-5 months: 70-150 ml per feed
Because their stomachs can hold only small amounts initially, newborns need to eat as little as 1-2 teaspoons every couple of hours. As their stomach capacity increases over the first few months, babies can go longer between feedings and take in more milk at each feeding.
Factors That Affect Newborn Feeding Frequency
While the guidelines provide a general schedule, each baby’s feeding needs vary based on factors like:
- Age: Younger newborns need to eat more often than older babies.
- Size: Smaller or underweight babies may need to eat more frequently.
- Health: Growth spurts, reflux, and medical conditions can all increase feeding frequency.
- Sleep patterns: Newborns who sleep longer at night may need to eat more often during the day.
- Feeding method: Breastfed babies may need to eat more often than bottle-fed babies.
- Hunger cues: Babies signal when they need to eat more or less frequently.
Pay attention to your baby’s unique cues and patterns rather than sticking to a rigid schedule. Their feeding frequency can vary day-to-day or week-to-week depending on these factors.
Tips for Feeding a Newborn
Here are some tips to keep in mind when feeding your newborn:
- Look for early hunger cues like stirring, lip smacking, and sucking fingers so you can feed before intense crying.
- Follow your baby’s lead and allow them to eat as much or as little as they want at each feeding.
- Try not to go longer than 3 hours during the day and 4 hours at night without feeding.
- Wake your baby if they sleep longer stretches to ensure they eat enough, especially in the first weeks.
- Offer both breasts at each feeding if breastfeeding. Alternate which breast you start with.
- Burp your baby every 2-3 ounces if bottle feeding or after switching breasts when breastfeeding.
- Track wet diapers and watch for signs your baby isn’t eating enough, like decreased activity.
If you are concerned your newborn is not eating enough or too much, consult your pediatrician. Track patterns over a few days to identify any issues.
How to Know If Your Newborn is Eating Enough
Newborns should have frequent wet and dirty diapers and regular weight gains to indicate adequate feeding. Here are guidelines by age:
|Age||Wet Diapers Per Day||Dirty Diapers Per Day|
|Birth to 2 days||1+||1+ black stools|
|3-6 days||2+||2+ black stools|
|6-14 days||6+||3+ brown, green, or yellow stools|
|15-28 days||6-8||3+ yellow stools|
|1-2 months||6-8||2-5 yellow stools|
Breastfed babies should gain around 0.5-1 ounce per day after the first week and bottle-fed babies around 1 ounce per day. Reach out to your pediatrician if output or weight gain fall below these thresholds.
Signs Your Newborn is Not Eating Enough
Contact your baby’s doctor right away if you notice any of the following signs that may indicate inadequate feeding:
- Fewer than the expected number of wet or dirty diapers
- Dark yellow urine or infrequent stools
- Difficulty waking for feedings or excessive sleepiness
- Fussiness or lack of interest in feeding
- Consistently not finishing feeding
- Failure to gain weight or weight loss
- Soft spot on head becoming more sunken
- Dry lips, mouth, eyes, or fontanel (soft spot)
- Crying inconsolably
Your doctor can check for medical issues and may recommend supplementing with pumped breastmilk or formula if needed. Contact a lactation consultant if breastfeeding difficulties are preventing adequate intake.
When to Feed More or Less Often
While most newborns need 8-12 feeds per day, some signs could indicate your baby needs their frequency adjusted:
Feed More Often If:
- Consistently acting hungry before next scheduled feed
- Notlasting 3-4 hours between feeds
- Falling asleep at breast or bottle and not finishing
- Producing fewer wet diapers
- Not regaining birth weight by 2 weeks
- Weight gain plateaus or drops
Feed Less Often If:
- Spitting up large amounts after many feeds
- Colicky, gassy, or irritable during/after feeds
- Consistently sleeping 4+ hours between night feeds
- Difficulty waking for feeds or lack of interest
- Gaining weight rapidly
Try adjusting feeding frequency gradually by 1-2 feeds per day if needed. But always ensure your baby eats at least 8 times in 24 hours in the first couple months.
Setting a Newborn Feeding Schedule
While feeding on demand is recommended over a strict schedule, having an example routine can help you plan your day. It also ensures you feed at least 8-12 times in 24 hours. Here is a sample schedule:
|2 am||Dream feed|
|11 pm||Dream feed|
Aim to feed your baby every 2-3 hours during the day with one longer stretch of 4-5 hours overnight. Adjust schedule as needed based on your baby’s cues and patterns.
How Feeding Changes as Your Baby Grows
While newborns need frequent feeds around the clock, feeding patterns change dramatically as babies grow. Here is an overview of how feeding frequency changes:
- 0-2 months: Feed on demand every 1.5-3 hours during the day and night.
- 2-4 months: Feed every 2-4 hours with feedings starting to consolidate overnight.
- 4-6 months: Feed every 3-4 hours with 1-2 longer stretches at night without feeding.
- 6-8 months: Feed every 4-5 hours with only 1-2 night feeds.
- 9-12 months: Feed every 4-6 hours with occasional night feeds.
As babies get older, they become more efficient at feeding, take in more per feeding, and no longer need night feeds. By 6 months, solid foods can also help meet nutritional needs so less frequent breastmilk or formula feeds are needed. Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby’s feeding patterns.
Setting a Feeding Routine
Establishing a structured feeding routine can help ensure your newborn eats often enough while allowing you to plan your day. Aim to:
- Feed every 2-3 hours during daylight.
- Have a longer 4-5 hour stretch overnight.
- Feed immediately after waking up.
- Offer more frequent small feeds if still showing hunger cues.
- Gently rouse baby if longer than 4 hours pass without eating.
- Alternate which breast you start on if breastfeeding.
Cluster feedings, where baby eats more frequently for a time, are also common in evenings. Following a routine makes it easier to identify any changes in baby’s appetite and feeding patterns.
Feeding Tips for Healthy Growth
To help ensure your newborn stays well-nourished for healthy development in the first few months:
- Respond early to hunger cues – Don’t wait for crying, look for early signs like stirring or rooting.
- Allow baby to take as much as needed – Let them feed until satisfied at each session.
- Ensure nightly dream feeds – Gently wake to feed once overnight if sleeps longer stretches.
- Offer both breasts – Alternate which breast you start with if breastfeeding.
- Ensure good latch – Consult lactation support to prevent issues like poor weight gain.
- Hold baby upright – Hold for 10-15 minutes after feeding to prevent spitting up and ensure adequate intake.
Tracking baby’s output and weight gain will help you identify any issues and make adjustments to the feeding routine if needed.
Feeding a newborn can be challenging, but understanding normal feeding frequency guidelines makes establishing a schedule easier. While every baby is different, most newborns need 8-12 feeds per day or about every 1.5 to 3 hours. Allow on-demand feeding based on hunger cues and offer both breasts if breastfeeding.
Check baby’s diaper output and weight gain to ensure adequate intake. Adjust schedule if baby falls outside normal patterns, such as needing to eat more often or going longer stretches without eating. Feeding frequency gradually decreases over baby’s first year as they become more efficient at feeding.
Setting a structured routine with consistent feeding times helps ensure baby eats enough for healthy development. But always follow baby’s lead and watch for signs your schedule needs adjusting to meet their needs. With a balance of routine and flexibility, you can ensure your newborn stays well-nourished.