What Is a Baby Feeding Schedule?
It’s simple: You should nurse or offer a bottle whenever your little one is hungry in the first few months as a newborn. And your baby is going to let you know, loud and clear! But crying isn’t the only clue.
Following your child's lead, instead of trying to stick to a strict time-based schedule, is often called “demand feeding” or “feeding on-demand.” Since your infant can't actually say "I'm hungry,” you’ll want to learn to look for cues that it's time to eat. These may include:
- Leaning toward your breast or a bottle
- Sucking on their hands or fingers
- Opening their mouth, sticking out their tongue, or puckering their lips
Crying is also a sign of hunger. But if you wait until your baby is very upset to feed them, it can be hard to calm them down.
How Often Should I Feed My Baby?
Every child is different. It also depends on whether your baby is drinking breast milk or formula, since they digest breast milk more quickly.
If you're breastfeeding, your newborn will probably want to nurse every 1.5 to 3 hours. As they get older, they’ll slowly start to nurse less often and fall into a more predictable pattern.
Newborns should nurse eight to 12 times a day for the first month; when your child gets to be 4 to 8 weeks old, they’ll probably start nursing seven to nine times a day.
If they’re drinking formula, your baby will probably want a bottle every 2 to 3 hours at first. As your child grows, they should be able to go 3 to 4 hours without eating.
Newborn growth spurts and hunger
You may notice that your baby sometimes wants to eat more often or a larger amount than normal. This usually happens when a child is growing rapidly. Your child may go through growth spurts around these ages:
- 7-14 days
- 3-6 weeks
- 4 months
- 6 months
How Much Should I Feed My Baby?
There are general guidelines, but no hard and fast rules, for how much your baby should have at each feeding. It depends on their own habits and rate of growth, plus a few other things, such as their age and how often they feed.
Babies usually drink more each time (and feed less often) as they grow and their stomachs can hold more. If you breastfeed, your baby may drink a little less each time but feed more often than babies who get formula.
Most babies add about 1 ounce to what they drink per feeding with each month of age. This levels off when they’re about 6 months old, when they usually drink 7 to 8 ounces per feeding. Here’s about much your baby should drink at each feeding when they are:
- Newborn to 2 months. In the first days after your baby is born, they may want only a half ounce of milk or formula at each feeding. This will quickly increase to 1 or 2 ounces. By the time they’re 2 weeks old, they should drink about 2 or 3 ounces per feeding.
- 2-4 months. At this age, your baby should drink about 4 to 5 ounces per feeding.
- 4-6 months. At 4 months, your baby should drink about 4 to 6 ounces per feeding. By the time your baby is 6 months old, they’ll probably drink up to 8 ounces each time you feed them.
Not sure if your baby is getting enough to eat? You can probably relax. If your child has four to six wet diapers a day, has regular bowel movements, and is gaining weight, chances are that they’re doing just fine. If you have any concerns, give your pediatrician a call.
When to Start Solids
Your baby needs to reach certain stages of development before you add solid food to their diet. If you breastfeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that you feed your baby breast milk alone until they’re about 6 months old. Many babies are ready for solids when they’re about this age.
Here’s how to tell if your baby may be ready for solid food:
- They can hold up their head and keep it steady while seated in a high chair or other infant seat.
- They open their mouth for food or reach out for it.
- They put their hands or toys in their mouth.
- They can take food from a spoon and swallow it instead of dribbling it all out.
- They have doubled their birth weight and weigh at least 13 pounds.
When to Wean
Most babies are ready to be weaned from the bottle by 12 to 18 months, but exactly when it happens is up to you and to your baby. Your baby may be ready to start to wean when they:
- Enjoy solid food more
- Eat on a regular schedule
The process takes time, and you can help your baby make the change by giving them a cup to try when they’re around 6 months old. Generally, you should stop bottle use by the time your baby is 2 years old.
If you breastfeed, the AAP suggests that you continue to feed your baby breast milk along with solid food until they’re at least 1 year old. Your child may give you clues that they’re ready to wean. They may:
- Show more interest in solid food or drinking from a cup
- Not want to sit still while you breastfeed
You may want to wean your baby for your own reasons. The process works best when it’s gradual. The AAP notes that if it’s what you and your child want, you can continue to breastfeed after your baby reaches their first birthday.