Formula Feeding FAQs: How Much and How Often

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Formula Feeding FAQs: How Much and How Often

Whether you've decided to formula feed your baby from the start, are supplementing your breast milk with formula, or are switching from breast milk to formula, you're bound to have questions. Here are answers to some common queries about formula feeding.

How often should I feed my baby?

It's generally recommended that babies be fed whenever they seem hungry, which is called demand feeding (or feeding on demand).

Most newborns who are formula-fed feed every 2 to 3 hours. As they get bigger and their tummies can hold more milk they usually eat every 3 to 4 hours.

And if your baby is very young, or having problems gaining weight, you shouldn’t go too long without feeding, even if it means waking your baby. In this case, talk to your doctor about how often your baby should be fed.

How do I know my baby is hungry?

Signs that babies are hungry include:

  • moving their heads from side to side
  • opening their mouths
  • sticking out their tongues
  • placing their hands, fingers, and fists to their mouths
  • puckering their lips as if to suck
  • nuzzling again their mothers' breasts
  • showing the rooting reflex (when a baby moves its mouth in the direction of something that's stroking or touching its cheek)
  • crying

Despite what you might think, crying is a late sign of hunger. You should give a feeding before your baby gets so hungry that he or she gets upset and becomes difficult to calm down.

It's also important, however, to realize that every time your baby cries it is not necessarily because of hunger. Sometimes babies just need to be cuddled or changed. Or they could be overstimulated, bored, or too hot or too cold. If your baby cries only an hour after a good feeding, there may be something else causing the distress.

How much should my baby drink?

In the first few weeks, mix 2- to 3-ounce (60- to 90-milliliter) bottles for your newborn. Gradually increase this amount as you become familiar with your baby's eating patterns and appetite. Here's a general look at how much your baby may be eating at different stages:

  • On average, a newborn drinks about 1.5-3 ounces (45-90 milliliters) every 2-3 hours. This amount increases as your baby grows and is able to take more at each feeding.
  • At about 2 months, your baby may be taking 4-5 ounces (120-150 milliliters) at each feeding and the feedings may be every 3-4 hours.
  • At 4 months, your baby may be taking 4-6 ounces (120-180 milliliters) at each feeding, depending on the frequency of feedings and his or her size.
  • By 6 months, your baby may be taking 6-8 ounces (180-230 milliliters) every 4 to 5 hours. This also depends on whether you've introduced any baby food.

Why does my baby seem hungrier than usual?

As babies gain weight, they should begin to eat more at each feeding and go longer between feedings. Still, there may be times when your little one seems hungrier than usual.

Your baby may be going through a period of rapid growth (called a growth spurt). These can happen at any time, but in the early months growth spurts often occur at around:

  • 7-14 days old
  • between 3-6 weeks
  • 4 months
  • 6 months

During these times and whenever your baby seems especially hungry, follow his or her hunger cues and continue to feed on demand, increasing the amount of formula you give as needed.

Is my baby eating enough?

Babies grow at different rates, and at times you may wonder whether your baby is getting enough nutrients to develop properly. To help determine whether your baby is eating enough, follow the schedule of regular well-child checkups so that your little one can be weighed and measured.

In the meantime, your newborn's diapers are a good indicator of whether your baby is getting enough to ear. You'll probably be changing at least six wet and four dirty (soiled or "poopy") diapers each day at first.

Newborns' poop is thick and tarry in the beginning and then becomes more yellow or green as they get older. Formula-fed babies often have firmer, less seedy stools than breast-fed babies.

Wet diapers should have clear or very pale urine. If you see orange crystals in a wet diaper, contact your baby's doctor. Crystals are usually not a cause for concern, but sometimes they can be a sign of a baby not getting enough fluid or of dehydration. Other possible signs of underfeeding include:

  • not gaining enough weight
  • seeming unsatisfied, even after a complete feeding

If you're concerned or notice any signs that your baby isn't getting enough nutrition, call your doctor.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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