Should a newborn eat every 3 hours?

New parents often wonder how often their newborn should eat. There are varying opinions on the optimal feeding frequency for newborns in the first few months of life. Some experts recommend feeding on demand whenever the baby shows hunger cues, while others advise feeding every 2-3 hours on a schedule. Ultimately, the right feeding pattern depends on each individual baby’s needs. This article will examine the evidence behind feeding newborns every 3 hours versus on demand to help parents make an informed decision.

Quick Answer

Most experts recommend feeding newborns whenever they show signs of hunger, at least 8-12 times per day. However, for some babies, a routine of feeding every 2-3 hours works well. Watch for your baby’s hunger cues and consider their behavior, weight gain, and overall health when deciding on feeding frequency. Adjust the timing as needed to suit your baby.

Feeding Newborns On Demand

Many pediatricians and lactation consultants recommend feeding newborns whenever they show hunger cues, rather than on a strict timed schedule. Proponents of on demand feeding cite the following benefits:

Allows Baby to Feed According to Natural Rhythms

Newborns have very small stomachs, so they need to eat frequently. Hunger can strike at any time. Feeding on demand allows babies to eat when their bodies tell them it’s time, helping ensure adequate nutrition.

Helps Establish Milk Supply for Breastfeeding Mothers

For breastfeeding mothers, feeding on demand helps establish milk supply since production is driven by baby’s nursing. Limiting feedings can signal the body to produce less milk.

Good for Babies Who Eat Slowly or Sleepily

Some babies, especially those who are sleepy or slow feeders, may not be ready to eat again after 2-3 hours. They benefit from feeding whenever showing interest, which may be more frequently than every 3 hours.

Promotes Responsiveness to Baby’s Needs

Following hunger and fullness cues promotes responsiveness between parent and baby. This helps babies feel secure and teaches them to self-regulate eating as they get older.

Easier for Parents in the Early Days

Trying to wake a sleeping baby to eat on a schedule can be difficult and stressful for parents. Feeding on demand allows babies to sleep when tired and eat when hungry.

Potential Benefits of a 3 Hour Feeding Schedule

While feeding on demand is preferred by most experts, others note that a routine of feeding every 2-3 hours has advantages as well:

Encourages Longer Sleep Stretches at Night

Feeding more frequently during daytime hours can encourage some babies to take longer sleep stretches at night because more of their nutritional needs are met during the day.

Helps Ensure Adequate Feeding Frequency

For sleepy babies who need to be woken for feeds, a schedule ensures they eat often enough for adequate nutrition and weight gain.

Fits Well with Parent’s Routine

Some parents find a regular feeding schedule helps them plan their day and get other things done between feeds.

Promotes Holistic Development

The rhythm of regular feeds during the day followed by longer sleep at night supports babies’ development of circadian rhythms and the sleep-wake cycle.

Provides Reassurance about Intake

For formula feeding parents, knowing baby eats a full feeding every 2-3 hours can provide reassurance that daily nutritional needs are met.

Signs Baby is Ready to Eat

When feeding on demand, look for the following cues that indicate your baby is ready to eat:

– Moving mouth and tongue
– Sucking on fingers and fists
– Rooting reflex (turning head looking for food source)
– Increased alertness or activity
– Crying

Crying is a late sign of hunger. It’s ideal to feed baby at the earliest cues.

Tips for Identifying Hunger Cues

– Offer breast or bottle when baby displays early cues; don’t wait until crying escalates.
– Track feeding times and watch for patterns to baby’s hunger signals.
– Distinguish hunger from other needs like sleep, diaper change, or comfort.
– Notice body movements, sounds, and facial expressions.
– Crying near expected feed times usually indicates hunger.

How Much and How Often Should Newborns Eat?

As a general rule, expect newborns to eat 8-12 times or more per 24 hours in the early months. Feedings will be irregular and closely spaced at first. Breastfed babies may eat more often than formula fed babies.

A newborn’s stomach capacity is small, around 2-3 ounces per feeding during the first month. Feedings increase over time as babies grow. By 2-3 months they take 4-5 ounces per feed.

Watch your baby for hunger/fullness cues to determine how much works best at each feeding. Avoid overfeeding.

Newborn Feeding Guidelines

– First 3-4 days: 8-12 feedings per 24 hours.
– 1 week old: Feed at least 8-12 times in 24 hours.
– 1 month old: Feed 8-12 times or more per day.
– 2-3 months: Feed 7-9 times per day.

How to Tell if Baby is Getting Enough

To ensure your newborn is well-fed:

– Track wet and dirty diapers. Expect at least 6 wet and 4 dirty per day once milk supply is established, usually by days 4-5.
– Watch for bright yellow seedy stools if breastfeeding.
– Ensure adequate weight gain at pediatrician check-ups.
– Notice satisfaction after feeding – falling asleep, relaxed body.
– Ensure baby wakes to feed with interest.

Contact your pediatrician if you have concerns about weight gain, energy levels, or signs of dehydration.

Implementing a 3 Hour Feeding Schedule

If you want to follow a routine for feedings, aim to breastfeed or bottle feed your baby every 2.5-3 hours during the day. Time from the start of one feeding to the start of the next.

You can gradually shift to this pattern in the first couple weeks as baby adapts:

– Week 1: Feed on demand but try for every 2.5-3 hours during daytime.
– Week 2: Move toward consistent 3 hour routine for day feeds.
– Week 3: Feed at 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 10pm overnight on demand.

Adjust schedule as needed if baby seems hungry sooner than 3 hours. Cluster feeding is common in early evenings so feeds may be closer together.

Wake baby if longer than 4 hours daytime or 6 hours overnight without eating. If using formula, offer full recommended feeding amounts.

Weaning from Night Feeds

Whether you use a schedule or feed on demand, expect night wakings and feeds in the first couple months. To drop night feeds:

– Wait until baby is gaining weight well.
– Slowly stretch time between feeds by 15-30 minutes.
– Try dream feeds (feed without fully waking baby).
– Have dad or partner help resettle baby without feeding.
– Offer pacifier for comfort.
– Once down to 1-2 night feeds, limit to 5 minutes.

Expect some fussing as night feeds drop. Respond with comfort techniques and patience.

Creating a Feeding Plan

Consider your baby’s age, health, and behavior when deciding on feeding frequency. Here are some scenarios and plans:

Sleepy Newborn

– Feed on demand every 1.5-3 hours during the day.
– Gently rouse baby if longer than 3 hours without eating.
– Allow one 4-5 hour sleep stretch at night.

Fussy Baby Who Spits Up

– Offer smaller feeds every 2-2.5 hours.
– Keep baby upright 20 minutes after eating.
– Check for food sensitivities if spitting up is excessive.

Premature or Low Birthweight Baby

– Feed on demand aiming for 8-12 feeds per day.
– Wake to feed every 3 hours or sooner if showing hunger.
– Consult doctor about optimal intake amounts.

Breastfed Baby with Slow Weight Gain

– Nurse at least 8-12 times per day.
– Offer both breasts at each feeding.
– Wake baby to feed every 2-3 hours during day.
– Consult lactation specialist.

Tips to Handle Frequent Newborn Feedings

Caring for a newborn means lots of feedings around the clock. Here are tips to make the frequent feeding schedule more manageable:

Involve Your Partner

Take turns so you can both get uninterrupted sleep stretches.

Accept Help from Family and Friends

Let grandparents or friends hold baby, change diapers, or bring you meals so you can focus on feedings.

Make Feedings Easy

Keep water and supplies handy. Breastfeed in a comfortable spot you can rest in. Hold and burp baby efficiently.

Stay Organized

Note feeding times and amounts. Have clean bottles ready. Use an app to track diapers and sleep.

Nap When Baby Naps

Rest whenever you can, even if just a short nap. Take advantage of help and get some longer sleep periods.

Adjust Your Schedule

Push back less important tasks. Let housework slide. Ask for leniency with other responsibilities.

Remind Yourself It Won’t Always Be This Way

The frequent feedings of newborn phase won’t last forever. This too shall pass!


How often should a formula fed newborn eat?

Most formula fed newborns need 8-12 feedings per day in the first couple months. Feed on demand or try a routine of feeding every 2.5-3 hours during daytime hours.

Why does my newborn want to eat constantly?

Frequent feeding is normal for newborns, especially in the early weeks. Their stomach capacity is small and breastmilk digests quickly. Cluster feeding in the evenings is also common. Offer smaller frequent feeds.

When can I start spacing out newborn feedings?

Around 2-3 months as babies stomachs grow and they become more efficient at eating, you can start to space out feeds a bit more, aiming for every 3-4 hours during the daytime.

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

Signs your baby is adequately fed include: 6+ wet diapers and 4+ dirty diapers per day, adequate weight gain, relaxation and contentment after feeding, waking hungry for feeds.

Is it OK to let a newborn sleep longer than 3 hours?

Once babies are back to birth weight and gaining well, typically by 2 weeks, it’s usually fine to allow one longer sleep stretch of 4-5 hours overnight. Feed on demand when they wake hungry.


Most experts recommend feeding newborns whenever they show hunger cues, at least 8-12 times per day. But some babies do well with a routine of feeding every 2-3 hours. There are pros and cons to both on demand and scheduled feeding. Consider your baby’s unique needs and behaviors when deciding what works best. Adjust the timing of feeds to ensure your baby eats frequently enough for adequate nutrition and weight gain. Be flexible and responsive in these early months to help your baby develop healthy eating patterns.

Age Recommended Feeding Frequency
First 3-4 days 8-12 feeds per 24 hours
1 week old 8-12 feeds per 24 hours
1 month old 8-12 feeds or more per day
2-3 months 7-9 feeds per day

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