Let's be honest: Newborns don't do a lot. There's eating, sleeping, and pooping, followed by more sleeping, eating, and pooping. But don’t be fooled by your little one's lax schedule.
Your baby is actually doing important work in those first few weeks of life. All of that sleeping and eating is helping them grow at a rather astonishing rate.
But you may be wondering just how much your newborn really needs to eat. Here's a feeding guide for new parents.
How much should newborn babies eat the day they’re born?
You may be anxious about getting your baby started eating as soon as possible. But on the first day of life, it’s possible that your baby is just as tired as you after going through birth.
It's not uncommon for babies to be very sleepy in the first 24 hours of life. That first 24-hour period after birth can be a learning curve for the baby to literally learn how to eat and be alert enough to eat. Don't fret too much if your baby isn't showing interest in eating every two hours on schedule.
One study found that, on average, infants who were breast-fed ate around eight times and had three wet or dirty diapers in the first 24 hours of life. This is less than they’ll eat and eliminate later.
You may be shocked to see how little your newborn is actually eating through breast-feeding in that first day of life, too. This is normal so don’t be worried. Keep in mind that until your milk comes in (around postpartum day three), your baby is drinking colostrum only. Colostrum is like concentrated superfood full of calories and nutrients, which is why it is adequate even in its small amounts the first couple days. Think quality over quantity.
On average, a healthy newborn will only drink about 1/2 ounce in colostrum over the first 24 hours of life. Of course, every baby is different.
When should you start feeding your newborn baby?
Newborns especially are most alert an hour or two after birth, which is why it's important to start breast-feeding as soon as possible. If you miss that very active stage, your baby may be more sleepy later, which makes it harder to practice latching on for that first initial feeding.
If your baby’s not showing signs of wanting to latch, you should continue to offer your baby the breast every two to three hours. It also takes a lot of practice, so it’s important to be patient as your baby is figuring out the best way to latch. Write down the feeding times and number of wet and dirty diapers your baby has had while you're in the hospital. Your nurse and doctor will be able to help you determine if your baby needs some additional encouragement to nurse or supplement.
How many ounces do formula-fed babies need each day?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that after the first few days, your formula-fed newborn will drink around 2 to 3 ounces (60 to 90 milliliters) of formula with every feeding.
They’ll need to eat about every three to four hours. This is compared to a breast-fed baby, who will usually eat every two to three hours.
By the time your baby is 1 month old, they should be eating around 4 ounces every four hours.
How much do breast-fed babies need to eat?
If you’re exclusively breast-feeding, you won't be measuring your baby's ounces for feedings. Instead, you'll simply be feeding your baby on demand, or whenever they want to eat.
In general, for the first months of life, a newborn will eat around every two to three hours, but this will vary. The feeding timeline starts from the time your baby starts nursing. For example, in the first few weeks, if your baby starts eating at 2 p.m. and nurses for 40 minutes, they may be ready to eat again at 4 p.m. Hello, human milk bar!
Sometimes your baby may nurse more or less frequently. Your baby may want to nurse more if they’re sick. Nursing is a comfort mechanism and immune booster. They may want to eat more if they’re going through a growth spurt and need some extra calories.
Both the AAP and the World Health Organization recommend breast-feeding a baby on demand. So don't worry, you can't overfeed an exclusively breast-fed baby. Your baby will signal to you when they are full by pushing away or by stopping latching on their own, until they are ready again. And if you’re exclusively pumping, follow self-care practices to help keep your milk supply up and watch your baby's cues for how much to feed them.
It's best to feed your baby when they’re hungry, rather than follow a strict schedule. Work with your doctor to make sure your baby is growing and developing properly.
How can you tell if you’re feeding your baby a healthy amount?
Your baby will show signs that they are full by showing less interest in the milk and pulling away. Don’t force your baby to eat more than what they are interested in if they continue growing well. One sign you may be feeding too much is seeing your baby spit up a lot with every feed. If this occurs even without feeding too much, remember to ask your pediatrician about it. At the pediatrician visit, discuss how well your baby is growing in weight and height. Consistent growth along their growth curve is always a good sign that your baby is eating a healthy amount.Nancy Choi, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.