How Much Should a Newborn Eat? (Hint: Less Than You Think!)

You’re eager to nourish that precious newborn, but babies don’t eat much in those first days. Learn the specifics here.

How much should a newborn eat? You're eager to nourish that precious newborn, but babies don't eat much in thost first days. Learn the specifics here.

No one ever tells you how stressful feeding a baby can be, especially in those first few days and weeks. Breastfeeding is hard (but so worth it!) and you’ll wonder: How much should a newborn eat?

But once you know some simple key facts about feeding a baby, you will be able to relax and gain some confidence. In this post, we’ll answer:

How Much Should a Newborn Eat?

One of the reasons feeding a newborn can be so bewildering is that newborns don’t eat on a schedule resembling ours. In those first few weeks, newborns eat pretty much around the clock, including in the middle of the night.

There is a good reason for this: In the womb, babies were fed exclusively by the placenta, and it takes a while for their tummies to adjust to a new food source. At first, newborns have very tiny stomachs that can’t easily stretch.

On their first day of life, newborn’s itty-bitty tummies can only hold 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of milk at a time!

As the days go on, their stomachs start to stretch incrementally, until their tummies can hold higher volumes of milk. Here’s a breakdown of newborn stomach storage size:

  • Day 1: 5-7 ml (size of a large marble)
  • Day 3: 22-27 ml (the size of a ping pong ball)
  • One week: 45-60 ml (size of a large chicken egg)
  • One month: 80-150 ml (size of a plum)
How Much Should a Newborn Eat (Hint Less Than You Think!) Chart

How Much Should a Newborn Eat If You’re Breastfeeding?

One of the things that’s really amazing about the progression of a newborn’s stomach size is how it corresponds to a mother’s milk volume, if she’s breastfeeding.

  • Days 1-3: When the baby’s stomach is small, a mother produces colostrum, which is full of immunities and awesome nutrition, but also small in amount.
  • Days 3-4: As baby’s stomach size grows, a mother’s milk volume also increases (often referred to as milk “coming in”).

If you are breastfeeding, it’s difficult to gauge how many ounces your baby eats at once, unless you are pumping your breast milk. You should always feed your baby “on demand,” putting him or her to the breast any time he or she shows signs of hunger (rooting, licking lips, sucking on hands).

How often does that end up being? These are just estimates—and you should consult your pediatrician for what’s right for your baby, especially if baby is having trouble gaining weight:

  • First 24 hours: Feed on demand or at least every 2-3 hours. Remember: Your baby may only drink ½ ounce of colostrum in total in the first 24 hours.
  • First month: Feed on demand or at least every 2-3 hours during day and 3-4 hours during the night (8-12 times per day).

Note: If you are pumping full or part-time, you can expect your baby to take 2-3 ounces per feeding, working their way up to about 4 ounces per feeding. 

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How Much Should a Newborn Eat If You’re Formula Feeding?

Formula is digested more slowly than breastmilk, so your baby is likely to go a little longer between feedings from the start. With formula feeding, you will always be able to see how many ounces your baby has consumed. However, even with formula feeding, you want to listen to your baby’s hunger cues—don’t force them to finish their bottle if they are clearly satisfied.

As with breastfeeding, these feeding guidelines are just estimates. Talk to a lactation consultant or your pediatrician for further guidance, especially if your baby is underweight or has other health issues:

  • First 48-72 hours: Baby will take ½-1 ounce of formula every 3-4 hours.
  • First few weeks: Baby will take 2 to 3 ounces per feeding every 3-4 hours.
  • By the end of the first month: Baby will take about 4 ounces every 4 hours.
  • By 6 months: Baby will take 6-8 ounces four to five times per 24 hours.

Why Do Newborns Eat So Often?

It’s pretty amazing how much a baby’s stomach grows in those first few weeks. But even when a baby’s stomach becomes larger, it’s still not all that big, and can’t hold very large volumes of milk at once. So it makes sense that in the early days and weeks, you can expect your baby to eat very frequently (as tiring as that is!).

It’s also why babies tend to do something called “cluster feeding,” where they eat, snooze, and then eat again right away. Sometimes baby feeds more in quick succession to “fuel up”—in response to a growth spurt or to (hopefully!) sleep longer.

Should I Wake Baby for Feedings?

When you’re first establishing your milk supply, you don’t want to let more than a few hours go by without nursing. That means nursing every 2-3 hours during the day and at least once per night.

For the first two weeks of baby’s life, the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waking your baby to eat in the middle of the night every 4 hours if they do not wake on their own.

Some babies are very sleepy at first and it can be really hard to get them alert enough to eat. Here are some things you can try if you find yourself in that situation:

  • Tickle baby’s feet
  • Blow gently baby’s face
  • Stroke baby’s cheek
  • Pat baby’s bottom
  • Take off baby’s swaddle and nurse skin-to-skin

Those early weeks when you have to be diligent about making sure your baby wakes for feedings can be exhausting, but it doesn’t last forever. Once your milk supply is established, and your baby is back to their birth weight and eating regularly during the day, you don’t have to wake your baby anymore.

How Do I Know If My Newborn Is Getting Enough to Eat?

In the beginning, a certain amount of newborn weight loss is normal, especially if you are breastfeeding. A 5-7 percent weight loss during the first 3-4 days after birth is normal. If baby loses more than that, breastfeeding should be evaluated by a certified lactation consultant. (source)

Once your milk “comes in,” about 3-4 days after birth, your baby will typically start to regain that weight. Baby should be back to their birth weight somewhere between 10 days and two weeks after birth. But don’t stress: Your baby’s pediatrician will monitor their weight and growth, and let you know if anything is amiss.

After that, you are looking for a steady weight gain. On average, babies gain 5.5 to 8.5 ounces per week during the first four months. (source) However, it’s important to note that your pediatrician will be looking for a consistent growth curve, not necessarily a specific percentile. As long as your baby is following their own curve and is healthy, there is rarely anything to stress about. (Check out these baby weight charts to see if your baby is on track.)

Signs Baby Is Getting Enough Food

Though it’s always important to monitor baby’s weight gain during those first few months of life, the following signs are good day-to-day indicators that baby is indeed getting enough to eat:

  • Mood: Baby is content and seems satisfied after feedings
  • Energy levels: Baby is alert during awake periods (Note: Baby’s awake periods may not exceed 45 minutes at a time during the first few weeks of life)
  • Diaper output: Baby wets at least five to six diapers a day after your milk comes in. Check out this handy chart for more info:
Newborn diaper output chart

If your baby is lethargic, refusing to eat, not putting out wet/dirty diapers, call your pediatrician right away for guidance.

Remember: Fed Is Best

If your baby is showing any signs that they’re not getting enough to eat, it’s important to supplement. The most important thing is that baby gets the nourishment he needs to grow. If you need to supplement, learn all about the best baby formulas.

How About You?

What was most confusing or worrying about those first few days and weeks of feeding your baby? How often did your baby eat? What do you think is the most important advice for new parents about feeding their babies?

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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