Formula Feeding: How Much, How Often, How Long
When it comes to formula, how much is too much? What sort of schedule should you follow? And how will you know when you should feed your baby – and when you should stop?
Every baby is different; to know your individual baby’s needs, pay close attention to his or her cues and talk to your pediatrician.
Here are a few answers to some common questions:
Should I set a schedule for feedings or feed my baby on demand?
Most experts recommend feeding babies – whether they are breastfed or formula-fed – on demand. (However, if your baby is a newborn or is having trouble gaining weight, you might introduce the bottle every 2 to 3 hours regardless.)
How can you tell if your baby is hungry?
Believe it or not, crying is not your best hunger cue. It’s actually a late sign of hunger, and if your baby is agitated, it can complicate feedings. Try to detect that your baby is hungry before she gets to that point.
Early signs that your baby is hungry:
- She moves her head from side to side, as if looking for a breast or a bottle.
- She opens her mouth or sticks out her tongue.
- She puckers or smacks or sucks her lips.
- She puts her hands, finger or fists in her mouth.
- She nuzzles into your chest or moves her mouth toward your hand if you caress her cheek (also known as rooting).
How often should I expect to feed my baby?
Most newborns eat about every two to three hours, and as they grow and take in more during each feeding, the time between feedings can stretch to every three to four hours. Also, because formula takes longer to digest than breast milk, many formula-fed babies go a bit longer between feedings.
Of course, every baby is different. And even the same baby’s needs and habits can differ on any given day. Some days she may just be less hungry. On the other hand, if she’s in the midst of a growth spurt – which tend to hit when your baby is about 10 to 14 days old and then again around three weeks, six weeks, three months and six months – she may demand to be fed more often or take in more during each feeding.
Here’s a good rule of thumb:
Weeks 1-8: Expect to feed your baby between six and eight times per day and take in about 2 to 4 ounces per feeding during these initial weeks. That works out to a feeding every three to four hours. If your baby sleeps longer than four or five hours without waking to eat, you may want to wake her up to feed her.
Months 2-6: As your baby grows, he will begin to take in more at each feeding (usually around 4 to 8 ounces) and space out her feedings so that she eats around four or five times per day. At two or three months old, your baby may begin to sleep through the night (hallelujah!). At this point, there’s no need to wake your baby to feed her during the night, though if she wakes up hungry, you should feed her.
Months 6-12: The feedings become less frequent (your baby may need to eat only about three to five times per day) as your baby’s intake grows with each feeding (as much as 8 ounces at a time). Around this time, your pediatrician may have you start your baby on semisolid foods, which means your baby may be getting nutrition from other foods and need less formula.
How long will each feeding take?
Again, every baby – and each feeding – is different, but you can probably safely expect a feeding to take about 20 minutes.
Should I feed my baby every time she cries?
Every cry is not an indication of hunger. It could mean that something else – a diaper that needs changing, overstimulation, boredom, a feeling of being too hot or too cold, just a desire to be held and comforted – is bothering your baby. Look for other signs of hunger, but if you suspect that your baby may be hungry or if it’s been a while since your baby ate, feel free to offer the bottle.
How do I know if my baby is getting enough formula – or too much formula?
Just as your baby gives you clues to let you know she’s hungry, she’ll let you know when she’s had enough during a feeding: She’ll stop sucking, turn away from the bottle, and may even push the bottle away. (Your baby may just be pausing, so keep the bottle handy for a minute or two to see if she wants to go back on, but if she’s not interested, don’t push it.)
If your baby gets to the end of a bottle and appears to be looking around for more, try preparing a bottle with just an ounce or two more and see if that does the trick. Otherwise, if you make a whole bottle and your baby loses interest after just a little bit, you’ll have to throw the rest away, which can feel wasteful. (But you do have to throw it out – bacteria can grow quickly in formula that’s left over after a feeding.)
Your baby’s needs can change week to week, day to day, even hour to hour – and today she might not eat the amount she ate yesterday. As a rule of thumb, some experts say you should expect your baby to eat about 2.5 ounces of formula each day for every pound she weighs (before you introduce semisolids at around 6 months). That means a 6-lb. baby will take in a total of about 15 ounces of formula during the course of a full day, an 8-lb. baby about 20 ounces per day, a 10-lb. baby about 25 ounces, a 12-lb. baby around 30 ounces, and so on.
Indications that your baby is taking in the proper amount of formula include steady weight gain after the first two weeks, five to six wet diapers per day (slightly more if your baby wears cloth diapers), and a relaxed, satisfied look after feedings.
Indications that your baby may be getting too much formula include stomach discomfort (hard tummy, legs drawn up) and vomiting (not just spitting up) after eating. However, if your baby projectile-vomits after feedings, this may be a sign of a health problem that requires medical attention. In that case, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.
Indications that your baby may not be getting enough formula include skipped feedings due to a lack of interest on your baby’s part and few dirty diapers (no pee, no poop). In this case, you should call your pediatrician.
Does my baby need extra vitamins or minerals, such as vitamin D or iron?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies who are not breastfed or who are partially breastfed be given formula that is fortified with iron. You should talk to your pediatrician about whether your baby needs any extra vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, which helps with the absorption of the calcium and phosphorus your baby needs for strong bones.
For easy reference, here’s a formula feeding chart that shows how many ounces most babies need as they grow.
To keep track of how frequently and how long your baby feeds, here’s a formula feeding schedule.