Last updated January 7th, 2021
The first few weeks at home with a newborn mainly revolve around his feeding. Parents most often find themselves in a whirlwind of pumping, breastfeeding or formula-making and measuring, wondering whether their newborn is hungry or has had enough milk to last him till his next feed. Breastfeeding was beautiful but not at all a piece of cake for me. More often than not, I had to resort to a formula bottle for my baby daughter to get enough milk. I remember the messy schedule at first, making bottles that were sometimes left unfinished and other times had to be filled for a second time. It was such a dilemma and calls to the pediatricians in panic became the norm in our house. Slowly however, we learnt how much formula the baby had to be fed, set up a schedule and feeding became quite predictable.
Parents often wonder if their baby is getting enough milk, especially during those first weeks and months. If you find yourself constantly worrying about your baby’s feeding pattern and schedule, you are not alone! If you’re breastfeeding your baby, it is hard to measure how much milk he will need. Breastfeeding is more on-demand and your baby can get the supply he needs. With formula, it is quite different. Babies need more time to digest formula milk than breast milk, so they can go longer in-between feedings, provided they get the right amount. That amount depends on various factors, such as your baby’s weight, age, and appetite. On average, a newborn that was born full-term feeds every 3 to 4 hours on 2 ounces of formula. Signs of hunger and overfeeding, which we will be talking about below, should be looked out for as they can lead to a whole bunch of consequences like reflux, the baby becoming overweight, or even getting too much iron for his needs. This being said, let’s see together if you are feeding your newborn too much formula and how you can know how much he needs.
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How can I know my newborn is hungry?
The most difficult part of taking care of a baby is the fact they cannot communicate their needs. Sure, there is your mother instinct, but there are also cues and subtle hints you will notice with time that will help you know what your baby needs.
When it comes to feeding, patterns will develop and you will both adapt to an approximate schedule. We tend to think that a baby will cry when he’s hungry and that’s when we should feed them. But a baby crying because he’s hungry means he reached a point where hunger is at its peak.
By the time your baby is crying, it means they are very hungry and that calming him down before he feeds will take more time. To avoid getting to that point, here are hunger cues to look our for:
- Moving their arms and legs in all directions.
- Being awake and alert.
- Making faces and sounds, like sighing and cooing.
- Moving their head from side to side, as if looking for something.
- Placing their fingers and fists in their mouth, or sucking on their lips and tongue.
- Being fidgety.
- Turning towards your breast when being carried.
Looking out for these cues will help you find out whether your baby needs to be fed and avoid reaching the point where he is really hungry and inconsolable. Instead of putting your baby on a schedule, follow his cues, they know best.
It is also good to know that babies will often go through growth spurts and will sometimes seem to want to feed constantly for a few days in a row.
So, how much formula should my baby have?
As a general rule, until babies are 6 months and start solids, they should be feeding on 2 to 2.5 ounces of formula per pound of body weight in the space of 24 hours. That’s generally an average of 4 ounces every 3 hours.
You can gradually add the ounces as your baby grows from newborn to infant. But it’s always important to know that each baby is unique. If you have a newborn who is bigger than other babies, he will tend to have more milk.
A baby’s appetite also changes depending on days and times. The quantity cited above is just a guideline, as hunger cues are the main thing you should look out for. As long as your baby’s diapers are wet, he’s growing and gaining weight, and looking healthy and happy, you can be sure you’re feeding them just fine.
How do I know my baby is full, and what are the signs of overfeeding?
Any baby will stop feeding when he is full. Breastfed babies are slightly different as they will just stop feeding and mom will also stop. But when there’s a bottle filled with a specific number of ounces of formula that parents gently push their baby to finish, it can lead to overfeeding.
A general rule is to never push a baby to drink more when he’s obviously had enough. I remember a nanny had told me to push my baby daughter to finish the whole bottle, which led her to develop reflux over time. We will be discussing the risks of overfeeding formula to your baby below, but first, let’s talk about how to know your newborn is full and signs of overfeeding.
Although a baby will surely stop when he is overfed and cry for milk when he’s hungry, there are signs that could show he is overfeeding on formula.
Here are some things you should look out for when it comes to knowing if your baby is eating too much:
- Your baby is spitting excessively. This means there is too much in his tummy and he is frequently spitting up the excess.
- Gaining more weight than he should. Check with your doctor your baby’s average weight. If it’s over the normal for his age, then he must be overfeeding.
- Your baby has an agitated sleep. Intestinal irritations could be waking him up.
What you can do to avoid overfeeding is simple:
- Keep feeding for hunger only, and not to amuse your baby or put him to sleep.
- Make sure you are diluting the appropriate amount of milk in water – most boxes of milk have guidelines on the back.
- If you feel your baby has only a need to suck, avoid the bottle and give him a pacifier.
- You can also try stopping your baby mid-feed, burp him and then continue. This helps checking if they actually want more.
Be careful about giving them water to make their tummy full as water does not contain any of the nutrients a newborn needs to grow healthy.
Having said that, how do you know if your baby is full?
Your baby will sometimes turn away from the bottle, turn his head and won’t let you feed him or fuss when it’s feeding time. It is easy for parents to panic when their baby is not hungry for milk, but accepting that and respecting their cues is better to avoid overfeeding and the risks that come with it. These risks include:
- Too much iron in infant formula
- Reflux risk
- Overweight risk
- Slow in growth because of constant vomiting and spitting up
FAQs – More questions on your newborn and formula
Does formula really go bad after an hour?
Yes, it usually does. Make sure that formula that hasn’t been fed is stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of 1 hour. After that, throw it away as it could build up bad bacteria and be harmful to your baby.
What if the baby doesn’t burp and falls asleep?
It can happen that your baby doesn’t burp after a feeding. Holding him upright for a few minutes, even if he’s fallen asleep will prevent him from waking up because of discomfort or from having a reflux reaction. If he does wake up, picking him up and carrying him upright will make him feel better.
Should I wake my baby for feedings?
Once your baby has gained back their birth weight and constantly feeds every 3 to 4 hours during the day, it should be okay not to wake him up for feedings.
It is natural to worry about your baby having too little or too much milk during the first few months. We’re here to reassure you! As long as your baby is happy, gaining weight, interacting, and growing steadily (which your pediatrician will surely tell you), you don’t need to worry about his feeding schedule.
Babies are different and only you can know your little one’s pattern and needs. Don’t forget to trust that gut of yours! It’s never wrong.