Every parent has reached one point in their lives where they are anxious about overdoing or underdoing something for their children. For new parents, this anxiety is at its peak as soon as you hold your little bundles in your arms. From the hesitation of holding a newborn, and proper caring, one anxious question is probably this: How often do you feed a newborn?
Babies may be delicate to care for, but their physiological drive for food is just as simple. All you have to do is watch out for their hunger indicators. Most newborns are feed every 2 to 3 hours depending on their needs.
But… did you know that baby feeding is not just simply providing them with food just to curb their hunger? Baby feeding is also one way of fostering a mother and child bond.
It also provides babies with reassurances, comfort, and love. One example is alleviating your child’s pain after an immunization. You do not feed him or her just because you think the infant is hungry. You feed him because you want to ease his distress.
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How Often Should a Newborn Eat?
According to Mayo Clinic, healthy newborns should be fed at least 8 to 12 hours every day in their first months. That’s why you would want to stick to the routine to provide for their needs. Caring for your baby is a ritual that you will get used to over time.
I know many new moms who would set their alarm for feeding time. While this is being very dutiful, this is also unnecessary. Why? Because your baby knows his or her needs more than your alarm clock. You will find that they may break the clock for feeding time more as they grow older.
When babies are upset, they would demand feeding. Listen to your baby and nurse him on demand. This is also called responsive feeding or responding and nursing your baby on his or her cue. This applies to both breastfeeding and formula feeding. Responsive feeding is letting your child take the lead when he needs to be nursed.
Here are some of the indicators that will tell you that it’s already feeding time for your newborn:
- Puckering lips or sticking out tongue
- Moving his/her head in search of a breast or bottle
- Putting hands to the mouth
Crying is an obvious sign of distress and hunger. However, there’s no reason to get down to that level if you notice other signals mentioned above. Some children get harder to pacify the later you provide for their needs.
As they grow a little older, you will notice that their feeding frequency may lessen. But they would also begin to take in more milk. At earlier stages, you apparently and normally become a constant worrier especially if this is also your first born. Little things may bother you especially if you talk to other parents and compare your child’s habit with theirs.
One thing you should remember is to stop comparing your child with other infants. They have different habits and patterns. Some children may latch on longer, while some others may feed more frequently. They know how much milk they need to take. As long as your child has the ideal weight gain, feeding patterns should not worry you.
General Guidelines for Newborn Feeding
Responsive feeding is not ideal for every infant. This is especially true for kids born with medical conditions and premature babies. Most mothers want to keep a consistent routine so we provided this general feeding guideline from Stanford Children’s Health.
Newborn to 1 month
- Infants usually eat at least 6 to 8 times a day, while some others may go for up to 12 times. In this case, you may want to feed them every 2 to 3 hours depending on their needs.
- They can consume around 2 to 4 ounces of milk at this age. But in the first couple of days, infants can only eat half to an ounce every feeding time.
- As they grow older, children may increase an ounce of their milk consumption.
- At 2 months, babies consume 5 to 6 ounces of milk. You can feed them 5 to 6 times a day, or every 4 to 5 hours when necessary.
3 to 5 months
- Babies at this age may nurse 5 to 6 times a day. You can expect them to consume 6 to 7 ounces or more of milk already.
- At 6 months, your baby is ready for solid foods. Yet by this time, you should also expect an increase in their milk consumption.
If your baby is on formula, it is easier to track the amount of milk they are taking. Sometimes, this worries breastfeeding mothers since they wonder whether their kids are getting enough.
The answer to this is in the wetness of their diapers. You should be able to make at least 5 wet diaper changes in a day. This is an indicator that your little one is getting the right amount of your milk.
Your child’s growth is also the best meter of your child’s feeding habit. You can track your baby’s progress through regular check-ups. Some babies may show weight loss two weeks after birth. This is completely normal as they are just losing the water that they have acquired from the womb.
The steady weight increase would start from two weeks up to a month. If your baby’s weight is within the percentile range in the growth chart, you are doing fine.
Are you Underfeeding or Overfeeding your Baby?
Infants cannot control the milk flow which could result in overfeeding or underfeeding. Either way, it may cause long term effects on their health. It is easy to spot if you are underfeeding your little bundle.
Other than the diaper wetness and the growth chart, they would exhibit dryness of the skin or overall fussiness. This is where timely and routine feeding becomes advantageous than baby-led responsive feeding.
However, underfeeding is not simply giving the baby less milk than he needs. Sometimes it is also caused by developmental changes like sleep deprivation. If your baby is taking in formula milk, incorrect preparation also led to underfeeding.
As I have mentioned, you feed not because the child is hungry. Sometimes it is simply to comfort them. This simple gesture of care may also give rise to overfeeding. Newborns are at risk of overfeeding since they could not show refusal. And oftentimes, mothers associate baby’s distress to hunger.
A substantial weight increase is a telltale sign of overfeeding. Babies will also manifest stomach issues like farting, belching, or milk regurgitation. They will also exhibit constant wakefulness and cranky behavior.
You can prevent overfeeding or underfeeding with these simple tips:
- Watch out for natural hunger cues so you can feed your baby accordingly.
- Respond to your baby appropriately. Do not wait for feeding time if you feel that he is already hungry.
- Do not coerce feeding. You will only risk overfeeding, or cause feeding aversion that can lead to underfeeding.
Should You Wake Your Newborn to Feed?
Newborns may wake every couple of hours for feeding. Breastfed babies wake up more frequently than bottle-fed. But remember that your newborn should not go for longer than 4 hours without feeding. You need to wake them up and make this a routine for the first couple of weeks.
For the succeeding months thereafter, you can let them sleep for longer periods. Feeding and tending a newborn is where most of the mother’s exhaustion comes from – this and the fact that your baby’s sleeping pattern is quite different from yours. However, you will get used to it eventually.
Should You Give Water to Babies?
You know that hydration is important and that after eating comes the need for water. The World Health Organization dispels the idea of giving infants under 6 months a taste of water. Babies do not need this extra hydration since breast milk and formula milk alone is enough to meet their needs. Giving water will only put your baby at risk of contracting diarrhea, and even malnutrition.
When a baby drinks water, it fills his stomach causing him to take in less milk. Also, there’s no ‘safe’ drinking water for infants. Hence, you should hang on to milk for the first 6 months of their lives.
Feeding your newborn should never be a challenge especially if you are new to parenting. Trust your instincts, and listen closely to your baby’s needs. They know what they want, and all you have to do is supplement them with these needs. A well-fed baby will exhibit a happy, active, and satisfied mood.
As a parent, it is natural to be anxious about so many things. But if you think your child is having a problem with eating habits, reach out to your pediatrician or lactation expert. After all, a professional opinion is highly recommended, especially if there are underlying conditions that might affect your baby’s feeding routine.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.