A newborn is born with some simple yet impressive talents, namely sleeping, eating, and pooping. And overnight a new parent’s life is utterly consumed with worry about…you guessed it…their baby’s sleeping, eating, and pooping. Figuring out a newborn’s “schedule” is on every parent’s mind. The most common question is how often to feed a newborn and how to know if they are getting enough milk.
How Often to Feed a Newborn: The Golden Hour
In an average healthy birth, a newborn is ready and eager to eat within the first hour (or two) of life, a precious 60 minutes known as the “golden hour.” Skin to skin contact enables mom to hold and admire her baby. Meanwhile, baby is awake, alert, and eager to eat. Gently guide your baby to your breast and watch in awe as baby instinctively beings to breastfeed. You can allow your baby to dictate the length of this first feeding. Chances are he or she will drift off to sleep at the breast.
Benefits of Early Breastfeeding
Babies that are placed on their mother’s abdomen within an hour after birth have shown a greater chance at successful breastfeeding, both in the short and long-term. In fact, babies who nurse early after delivery are more likely to still be breastfeeding at two to four months of age than infants who start nursing more than two hours after birth.
Breastfeeding within the first hour of life comes with additional benefits as well. For example, early breastfeeding helps mom’s milk come in more quickly, encourages the uterus to begin to contract, and helps regulate the baby’s body temperature (1).
How Often to Feed a Newborn: The First 24 Hours
As the first few hours fade, newborns tend to be less interested in eating and much more interested in sleeping. Around the 24-hour mark, your newborn’s appetite will again begin to increase. However, doctors typically recommend that parents feed their newborn every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. If necessary, gently wake your baby to initiate a feeding.
The first milk you produce is colostrum, a thick yellowish fluid that is ideally suited to the needs of your newborn. Most women make only about an ounce of colostrum in the first twenty-four hours after birth. Many moms worry if baby is getting enough to eat before their “mature” milk comes in. Rest assured, colostrum is exactly what your baby needs in that first day of life and the volume will increase over the next few days (2).
How Often to Feed a Newborn: The First Few Days
In the first few days after birth, baby will need to eat between 8 and 12 times a day. If you are not under special instructions from your pediatrician, there really isn’t a feeding schedule. Pediatricians agree that in most cases, babies should be fed on demand. Fortunately, babies give more clues than just crying when they are hungry.
Here is a list of signs you can watch for to know when your newborn is asking to be fed:
- Rooting, where baby turns his head and opens his mouth toward anything that touches his face
- Brings hand to face toward mouth
- Opens mouth and moves tongue in thrusting movement
- Becomes more active, makes a lot of body movements
- Feed baby when he awakes from a nap
Burp your baby once she falls asleep, begins long pauses between sucking, or lets go of the nipple. Afterwards, offer your other breast or the bottle again.
Babies often do what we call “cluster feeding,” where they want to nurse many times in a short period. Although it can be exhausting, it’s best to continue feeding on demand. This more frequent nursing is a way your baby helps increase milk supply and create positive nursing habits.
If you’re bottle feeding, your baby will be eating about 1/2 an ounce per feeding for the first few days.
How Often to Feed a Newborn: First Few Weeks and Months
In the first few weeks, your baby will be eating every 1 to 3 hours (still with periods of cluster feedings). They eat a volume of 1 to 2 ounces per feeding before the first month mark. As they hit one month, they begin to increase the amount to about 2 to 4 ounces. At about 2 months of age, babies usually take 4 to 5 ounces per feeding. A good rule of thumb is that a baby should be eating about 2 to 2 1/2 ounces of milk per pound of their body weight.
Knowing how much baby is eating is obviously harder to track with breastfeeding than bottle feeding, as you don’t see the exact amount your baby is getting. Fortunately, there are signs you can look for to be sure that your baby is getting plenty of milk.
Signs Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk
Feeding a newborn is hard work and it’s normal to wonder if you’re doing it right. The following 6 “S’s”, found in Penny Simkin’s Pregnancy Childbirth and the Newborn, The Complete Guide, are signs that your baby is well-fed and thriving.
1. Suckles Frequently – 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. (Although it seems counterintuitive, a baby that is feeding vigorously is likely thriving while a baby that eats fewer than 8 times in 24 hours may be at risk for dehydration.)
2. Swallowing – Your baby swallows often with their jaw fully extending.
3. Softer – If breastfeeding, breasts feel softer after feeding.
4. Satisfaction – Baby is content after feedings.
5. Soaking – In the first week of baby’s life, the number of wet diapers should at least equal the day of your baby’s life. For example, on day two of life they should at least have 2 wet diapers. After mom’s mature milk comes in, a breastfed baby will produce 6 to 8 wet diapers in 24 hours.
6. Stools – Once milk comes in, baby should have at least 3 poopy diapers a day. Many babies poop after almost every feeding. (Fun!!)
Are you still concerned that your baby that your baby is not getting enough milk? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your local LaLeche League leader for free breastfeeding help, or schedule an appointment with a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).
If you notice any of the following signs, contact your health care provider right away:
- Baby is lethargic and uninterested in nursing
- The inside of your baby’s mouth doesn’t glisten with moisture
- If you gently pinch baby’s skin and it stays “tented”
- Baby has yellow eyes, face, chest or abdomen (2)
Eating, sleeping and pooping might not sound very glamorous right now. But mark my word, you’ll be cheering as you count the messy and wet diapers in those first few days of life! Have confidence in your ability to feed your baby. As needed, reach out to friends, family and professionals for support and guidance along the way. You’ve got this, mom and dad!
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(1) American Academy of Pediatrics., Yu, Winnie. (2011). New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding, 2nd Edition.
(2) Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide. Minnetonka: Meadowbrook Press.