Breastfed babies generally eat more frequently than those who are formula fed. Newborns usually nurse on their mothers’ breasts every 2 to 3 hours; as they become older, the time between feedings will increase as the capacity of their stomachs becomes larger. By contrast, formula-fed newborns will start out by eating approximately every 3 to 4 hours during the first few weeks of life.
When you hold your baby to feed her a bottle, watch for cues that she is full, instead of using the clock as a guide. It’s more important that you are attentive to clues or signals from your baby that indicate she’s hungry. These are called hunger cues. When she wants to eat, she may become more alert, put her hands or fingers on or in her mouth, make sucking motions, stick out her tongue, smack her lips, kick or squirm, or begin rooting (moving her jaw and mouth or head in search of your breast). If she begins crying, this is usually a late signal that she wants to eat.
Whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, most parents worry about whether their babies are getting enough to eat. Because babies suck not only for hunger, but also for comfort, this can be hard to know at first. Even when babies no longer act hungry, some parents worry about whether all of their nutritional needs are being met.
Again, don’t panic. Your baby will let you know when she’s had enough or wants more. In most cases, she’ll consume about 90% of the available breast milk during the first 10 minutes of feeding on each breast. Then she might move away from the breast or simply doze off. Among the many advantages of breastfeeding is that it tends to be cued or on-demand feeding, meaning that in a sense, your baby will take charge of her own feedings. If you watch your baby’s responses, you should be able to figure out when she’s full. She may turn her head or give other signals that she’s no longer interested in eating. The formula-fed baby will also let you know when she’s had enough. You might notice her becoming distracted while drinking from the bottle, or she might start fidgeting or turn her head. She may close her mouth tightly. As your baby gets a little older and her eye-to-hand coordination gets better, she might try to knock the bottle or spoon out of your grip.
On the other hand, if your baby finishes a bottle and starts smacking her lips or begins to cry, she probably wants more. On average, by the end of the first month, she should be taking in at least 4 ounces of formula per feeding. At 6 months of age, she’ll be consuming 6 to 8 ounces per feeding.
You can also rely on your baby’s diapers to give you clues on whether she’s getting enough to eat. In the first month of your newborn’s life, she should wet her diaper 6 or more times a day and have 3 to 4 (often more) bowel movements each day. Your baby should also appear satisfied for a couple of hours after each feeding if she’s consuming adequate amounts of food.
What if your baby almost always seems to be hungry—or what if she doesn’t appear to have the appetite that you think she should? If that’s the case, talk to your pediatrician. The doctor will be able to answer specific questions or respond to your concerns about whether your baby is getting enough nourishment and is growing normally. During each office visit, the pediatrician is already keeping track of your baby’s weight gain and monitoring whether her weight is continuing to increase steadily. For instance,
- From months 1 through 4 of life, your baby should gain about 1 1⁄2 to 2 pounds each month, while growing about 1 to 1 1⁄2 inches.
- Between 4 and 7 months of age, she’ll add another 1 to 1 1⁄2 pounds per month and grow about 2 to 3 inches in length.
- By 8 months, the average boy will weigh between 14 1⁄2 and 17 1⁄2 pounds, while girls will probably weigh about a halfpound less.
- At 1 year of age, the typical child weighs about 3 times her birth weight.
- Breastfed babies tend to be chubbier than formula-fed babies during the first 4 to 6 months of life. Then they usually become leaner than formula-fed babies by 9 months to 1 year of age.