Feeding your newborn: Tips for new parents
One of the most common questions new parents have is how often their baby should eat. The best answer is surprisingly simple: in general, babies should be fed whenever they seem hungry.
How do I know when my baby is hungry?
For babies born prematurely or with certain medical conditions, scheduled feedings advised by your pediatrician are best. But for most healthy, full-term infants, parents can look to their baby rather than the clock for hunger cues. This is called feeding on demand, or responsive feeding.
Most newborns need eight to 12 feedings a day — about one feeding every two to three hours.
A hungry baby often will cry. But it’s best to watch for hunger cues before the baby starts crying, which is a late sign of hunger and can make it hard for them to settle down and eat.
Other typical hunger cues include:
Sticking tongue out
Rooting (moving jaw and mouth or head in search of breast)
Putting his/her hand to mouth repeatedly
Opening her mouth
Sucking on everything around
It is important to realize, however, that every time your baby cries or sucks it is not necessarily because he or she is hungry. Babies suck not only for hunger, but also for comfort; it can be hard at first for parents to tell the difference. Sometimes, your baby just needs to be cuddled or changed.
Stick with breast milk or formula
Breast milk is the ideal food for babies — with rare exceptions. If breast-feeding isn’t possible, use infant formula. Healthy newborns don’t need cereal, water, juice or other fluids.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
For your baby
Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial, even if you choose to provide breastmilk alongside formula.
improved immunity to many infectious diseases, due to the antibodies in breast milk
support a healthy weight and prevention of obesity
reduce the risk of sudden unexplained death in infancy (SUDI)
your uterus contract and return to its pre-pregnant size
prevent a range of health issues such as heart disease, breast and ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes
Concerns About Overfeeding or Underfeeding:
Babies are usually pretty good at eating the right amount, but they can sometimes take in more than they need. Infants who are bottle feeding may be more likely to overfeed, because drinking from a bottle may take less effort than breastfeeding.
Overfed babies can have stomach pains, gas, spit up or vomit and be at higher risk for obesity later in life. It’s better to offer less, since you can always give more if your baby wants it.
This also gives babies time to realize when they’re full.
If you are concerned your baby wants to eat all the time―even when he or she is full―talk with your pediatrician. Pacifiers may be used after feeding to help sooth healthy-weight babies who like to suck for comfort, rather than nutrition. For babies who are breastfed, it’s best to wait to offer pacifiers until around 3 to 4 weeks of age, when breastfeeding is well-established.
Trouble gaining weight?
Most babies will double their birth weight by 5 months of age and triple their birth weight by their first birthday. If your baby is having trouble gaining weight, don’t wait too long between feeding―even if it means waking your baby. Be sure to talk with your pediatrician about how often and how much to feed your baby.
How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat?
A newborn’s diaper is a good indicator of whether he or she is getting enough to eat. In the first few days after birth, a baby should have 2 to 3 wet diapers each day. After the first 4 to 5 days, a baby should have at least 5 to 6 wet diapers a day. Stool frequency is more variable and depends whether your baby is breast or formula fed.
During regular health check-ups, your pediatrician will check your baby’s weight and plot it on a growth chart. Your baby’s progress on the growth chart is one way to tell whether or not he or she is getting enough food. Babies who stay in healthy growth percentile ranges are probably getting a healthy amount of food during feedings.
Top tips for deciding how to feed your baby
Speak with your maternity care provider about what’s right for you. Try not to make any firm decisions until after your baby is born.
Understand that breastfeeding is a skill that every mother and baby can learn, and it can take time to build confidence and to get to know each other.
Only you know what’s right for you and your baby. If you give your baby the nutrition they need, you don’t need to justify which option you choose.
Be patient with yourself and your baby as you both learn what’s involved in feeding.
Remember, what’s important is that your baby is content and gets the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.