Although formula feeding does require more calculating and measuring than breastfeeding, it is a simple process to get the hang of. Here’s everything you need to know about how much formula your baby should be drinking and how often you should be feeding your baby.
When it comes to breastfeeding, figuring out whether or not your baby is getting enough food is a simple equation. If enough is coming out of the diaper, enough is going in. Things get a little more complicated for parents who have decided to bottle feed with formula.What is most important is to make sure your baby is drinking enough formula to help support their rapid growth and development.When starting to feed your baby, you should have a general idea of how much formula to be preparing and feeding your baby at each stage of their life.
However, every baby is different in terms of weight, height, and amount of formula they need, so use these numbers as a general guide as you begin to figure out what works best for your baby. Formula-fed babies, just like breastfed babies, will tell you when they’ve had enough. Listen to your baby and feed only when they are hungry, rather than trying to hit an exact number of ounces. What matters most is that your baby is gaining enough weight, is wetting and dirtying enough diapers, and most importantly, is happy and healthy. Let your baby lead the way when it comes to feedings.
Schedule of Formula Feeding
- After the first few days: Your formula-fed newborn will take from 2 to 3 ounces (60–90 mL) of formula per feeding and will eat every three to four hours on average during her first few weeks. It is common for breastfed babies to usually take smaller but more frequent feedings than with formula-fed babies.
- During the first few weeks: Continue feeding your infant around 2 to 3 ounces (60-90 mL) of formula per feeding. If your baby is starting to sleep for longer periods of time, more than 4 to 5 hours, and begins to miss feedings, wake them up and offer a bottle. You should try to continue a consistent feeding schedule for your baby.
- By the end of the first month: You can increase the amount of formula you are feeding your baby to at least 4 ounces (120 mL) per feeding session. At this stage, you will likely be on a routined schedule of feedings about every 4 to 5 hours throughout the day.
- By six months: At this age, your baby will be eating about 6 to 8 ounces (180-240 mL) of formula. The feeding schedule will be less frequent because of the increased amount. You should expect to feed about 4 to 5 times throughout the day.
Amount to Formula Feed
When calculating how much formula to give your baby, it is recommended to do this based on their weight, rather than their age. Every baby is unique and has different nutritional needs based on their personal growth and development. As a general guide, infants under 6 months of age should be eating around 2 to 2.5 ounces of formula per pound of body weight in a 24-hour period.
So, for example, if your baby weighs 10 pounds, that would be equal to 20 to 25 ounces of formula a day; in a 24-hour period you will be feeding your baby about 3 to 4 ounces every four hours.
Just like adults, babies hunger levels and needs will change from day-to-day. Instead of giving a fixed amount on a daily basis, be open to adjusting and giving more, or less, formula to your baby for each feeding session. Your baby will signal to you whether or not they need more or less formula with each feeding. If your baby starts to become fidgety or easily distracted during a feeding, it probably means that they’ve had enough and are finished. Alternatively, if your baby finishes the bottle quickly and signals that they are still hungry, you should prepare more formula.
Most babies will be satisfied with around 3 to 4 ounces (90-120 mL) in one feeding session for about the first month or so. For each month after that, you can increase the amount by 1 ounce (30 mL). You should not feed more than about 7 to 8 ounces (210-240 mL) of formula to your infant. If your baby seems to be wanting more than this amount, you should talk to your doctor for recommendations. Your infant should not be drinking more than 32 ounces (960 mL) of formula in a 24-hour time period. There are some babies who have a higher need for sucking and might need to suck on a pacifier after feeding to mimic the action.
When your baby is first born, it is best to feed your baby whenever they seem hungry. Common signals to look out for to tell if your baby is hungry include:
- Sucking on hands or lip smacking
- Head moving around looking for breast or bottle
- Fists moving to mouth
- Opening and closing their mouth
- Becoming more active or fussy
As time goes on, your baby will develop a fairly predictable routine of feeding. You will become more familiar with your baby’s signals, hunger cues, and feeding schedule which will help to better determine the right amount of formula for your baby.
Around 2 to 4 months old, or when your baby weighs more than 12 lbs, most formula-fed babies will no longer require middle-of-the-night feedings because they are eating larger amounts of formula during the day and their sleeping patterns are becoming more regular. This can vary baby-to-baby but you’ll likely notice a decrease in the frequency of feedings and an increase in the amount of formula your baby is finishing per feeding. As your baby is growing, so is their stomach capacity which means that your baby will be able to go longer in between daytime feedings. You should still expect to be feeding your baby once every 4 to 5 hours at a time. If your baby seems to want to feed more frequently than this or consumes larger amounts than recommended by your doctor, try distracting them with toys or giving them a pacifier to avoid overfeeding your baby.
Tips for Formula Feeding
Newborns: When your baby is first born, their stomach is about the size of their fist. When it comes to feeding, it is best to start very slow. You should begin by giving just 1 to 3 ounces of formula at each feeding every 3 to 4 hours (or whenever your baby seems hungry.) You can start to slowly increase the amount you are feeding as the demand for more formula becomes bigger. Never try and get your baby to drink more than what they want per feeding session.
2 to 4 months: When your baby hits the 10 to 12 lb mark, usually around the 2 to 4 month age, your baby will likely stop needing middle-of-the-night feedings. At this point, your baby has started to eat more during the day and is settling into their normal sleep patterns. This, plus the fact that their stomach capacity is growing, will mean that you can decrease the frequency of feedings to about every 4 to 5 hours.
6 months: At 6 months, you can start to slowly introduce solids to your baby. You can decrease the amount of formula you are feeding your baby as they start to eat more solid food. At this age, your baby should be drinking around 6 to 8 ounces of formula per feeding every 4 to 6 hours. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), your baby should not be drinking more than 32 to 36 ounces in a 24-hour period.
Learn more from Board Certified Pediatrician Dr. Caitlin Colvard about formula feeding:
How to Avoid Overeating
The most important thing to keep in mind is to listen to your baby’s appetite. If your baby’s weight is increasing at a normal, steady rate and along the familiar curve, you should not be worried about overfeeding. However, if your baby is drinking a significant amount more than the recommendations above and their weight seems to be scaling higher on the curve, there’s a chance they are getting a little too much.
There are a few signs that your baby might be drinking more formula than they really need.
- If your baby is frequently spitting-up, this is a common symptom of being overfed. Overfeeding can lead to excessive spit-up; your baby’s small stomach can only handle so much liquid at a time.
- If your baby is gaining weight at an excessive rate and is moving faster than their height, you should check in with your doctor to make sure everything is okay.
Here’s a few things you can do if your doctor tells you that your baby is overeating to help slow down the formula intake.
- Feed Only When Hungry: It can be hard to figure out whether or not your baby is actually signaling for hunger or for another reason. Try to avoid feeding your baby just because they seem unhappy, bored, or upset. If your baby seems fussy after a meal, try burping them before giving them a second serving. If you need your baby to stay distracted for a moment, instead of giving them a bottle, offer them an activity to play with or sing a song to keep them occupied.
- The Need to Suck: Some babies have a higher need to suck, even when they are not actually hungry. Offer your baby a pacifier or help them find their fists and fingers to mimic the action in between mealtimes.
- Preparing Formula Correctly: When you are preparing formula, check the label to make sure you are adding the right amount of water. You might be accidentally diluting the formula with too little water which can increase the calorie count per ounce significantly.
- Consider Offering Water: Doctors typically recommend waiting to start giving sips of water until around 6 months. However, you can ask your doctor if it would be okay to offer a few sips of water to help satisfy your baby’s thirst, without giving formula.
The most important thing to remember, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, is that your baby’s feeding needs are unique. Only your baby can tell you exactly how much or how often they will need to be fed. As you get to know your baby, you will start to understand their unique personality, hunger cues, and needs for a happy and healthy growth and development.
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