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Feeding Your Baby

In their first days and weeks of life, newborns sleep quite a bit. But when they’re awake, they’re usually feeding. Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, here are some tips for this early feeding period:

Breastfeeding Recommendations

When it comes to breastfeeding babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • Breastfeed exclusively for about the first 6 months. It supports breastfeeding for the first year and beyond as long as both mother and child want to, even through the toddler years.
  • Your baby should be in a crib or a bassinet in their mother's bedroom, where mom can have easy access.
  • A pediatrician or other healthcare professional should evaluate a newborn breastfed infant at 3-5 days old and again at 2-3 weeks to be sure the baby is feeding and growing well.
  • All exclusively breastfed babies should receive a vitamin supplement. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a vitamin and dosage.

Find Baystate Health breastfeeding classes, resources, and support.

When Your Milk Comes In

Your mature breast milk will come in 2-4 days after you give birth, depending on how much your baby nurses in the first days. (Newborns need to nurse at least 10-12 times each day.)

When Does Breast Milk Come In?

You will know that your milk has come in when:

  • Your breasts increase in size.
  • You can hear your baby swallowing after seeing 2-3 nursing motions of her jaw. Her little swallows will sound like “gah… gah.”
  • Your breasts slightly decrease in size as the baby feeds.
  • You feel some cramping in your uterus and you feel your milk releasing as your baby latches on. This is called a letdown reflex, though not all moms feel these sensations.
  • You see white or pale yellowish milk, rather than golden yellow colostrum, leak (or even spray) from your nipples or the corners of your baby’s mouth.
  • Your milk is changing from colostrum to mature milk. Nurse your baby frequently—every 1-3 hours—to establish your milk supply and provide the nourishment your newborn needs.

How Much and How Often to Breastfeed

Wake your baby to nurse if she sleeps more than 4 hours in a row. A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a walnut; it empties quickly and needs to be refilled frequently.

Breast milk is more easily digested than formula, and so breastfed babies feed more often than formula-fed babies. Frequent feeding will establish your milk supply: the more your baby feeds, the more milk you will produce.

Call your pediatrician or lactation consultant if:

  • Your milk doesn’t seem to have come in by the third day postpartum.
  • Your baby is producing less than 6-8 wet diapers and several soft, mustard-colored stools each day.
  • Your nipples become sore.

Feeding On Schedule or On Cue?

Many new moms attempt to make the days with their baby more orderly by using a schedule for feedings, but newborns, in particular, are unpredictable. Flexibility will better serve both you and your baby when it comes to feeding—whether by breast or bottle.

Your baby’s need to nurse varies throughout the day as well as from day to day, depending on whether or not he is in a growth spurt. Feed him whenever he signals hunger—crying, rooting or sucking on his hand are all cues—rather than using a schedule of every four hours or so.

Learning to watch his cues, rather than the clock, will strengthen your mothering skills in ways that reach far beyond feeding.

Formula Feeding

How much formula do babies need?

Formula-fed newborns generally take 2-3 ounces of formula approximately every 3 to 4 hours in the first few weeks. Feed your baby on demand, initially, and if he sleeps longer than 5 hours between feedings, wake him up to feed them!

Babies usually know how much they need to eat. If they are breastfeeding they have total control. They feed until they are done. Take a similar approach with bottle feeding. Encouraging your baby to “finish the bottle” is not healthy and can contribute to obesity later in childhood. Your pediatrician can give you a general amount that babies take a various ages, but that will just be an average.

Formula comes in different forms: dry (powder), concentrates (which need to be diluted with water), and liquid (already mixed) . If you are using a can of powder, be sure to follow the instructions explicitly regarding the amount of powder vs. water—so that you achieve the correct mixed amount—and shake well.

Your baby’s bottles will need to be sterilized. These basics explain all you need to know about sterilization.

Connecting with Your Baby

When feeding your baby formula, make mealtimes moments to be with your baby fully, just as if you were breastfeeding.

Hold your baby close and return her gaze as she feeds. Babies adore skin-to-skin contact, especially while feeding, so you might open your blouse a little and let her cheek rest against your chest. Let the feeding occur at the baby’s pace, and allow her time for smiles and playing with your fingers as you hold the bottle.

Mealtime, of course, isn’t the only time for quiet closeness with your baby. Reading, massage, rocking and singing will provide the frequent snuggling so important to young babies.

See also: 

Breastfeeding Pumps and Bottles

When to Start Bottle Feeding

If your baby is nursing well, sucking efficiently and gaining weight, the fifth or sixth week is a good time to introduce a bottle with an artificial nipple if you plan on using a bottle at any point in the future.

You may want to start doing this sooner, if you are interested in pumping (or expressing and storing) breastmilk. If your baby still seems to be learning how to suck from the breast, wait until you become a confident nursing couple before trying this.

If your partner wants to feed the baby, or you want to be able to leave the baby for a couple of hours, expressed breast milk in a bottle will make it possible. Learning to pump your milk requires the right pump and some practice. The key is to let down your milk in response to the pump just as you do in response to your baby’s sucking.

How to Get a Breast Pump

According to the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must cover the cost of a breast pump. Check the details of your coverage to find out what type of pump is covered (manual or electric). Electric pumps mimic your baby’s suck more closely than manual pumps, and therefore are more effective.

Start Pumping

Plan your first pumping sessions for an early morning, when you feel fullest, before your baby wakes and wants to nurse. Don’t worry about taking milk that your baby needs for breakfast. Remember, the more milk you take from your breasts, the more milk your breasts will make. The first few times, you may pump an ounce or less. With practice, many mothers can pump as much as 8 or more ounces in a session!

Store your milk safely in the freezer in small bags or containers designed for the purpose (a lactation consultant can recommend these). For guidelines on storing, freezing and thawing breast milk, see the La Leche League website.

Is Your Baby Getting Enough Nutrients?

As babies grow and their stomachs can hold more milk, they drink more at each feeding and can go longer between feedings. Below are some guidelines for feeding, from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Your baby will let you know when he or she is hungry. The cues can be pretty obvious:

  • Sticking his tongue out
  • Turning her mouth and head toward your breast
  • Putting his hand into his mouth repeatedly; sucking on the hand, clothing, etc.
  • Fussing or crying
  • Newborns generally eat every 2 to 3 hours (8 to 12 times in a 24-hour day). In the first day or 2 after birth, a newborn may only drink half an ounce per feeding. This increases to 1 or 2 ounces per feeding and then to 2 or 3 ounces by 2 weeks of age.

At 2 months, babies drink 4 or 5 ounces per feeding, every 3 to 4 hours.

At 4 months, babies take in 4 to 6 ounces per feeding

At 6 months, babies drink up to 8 ounces every 4 to 5 hours, which is generally the amount they’ll drink going forward. Solid foods usually start at about 6 months of age.


Bottle-fed babies may be more likely to overfeed, because it’s easier to drink from a bottle than from the breast. Overfed babies may have gas, spit up or vomit, or have stomach pains. Follow the feeding amounts listed above to prevent overfeeding.

Try using a pacifier if your baby continues to fuss after a feeding; he or she may just want the soothing that sucking provides. The AAP advises waiting until 3 to 4 weeks of age before offering a pacifier, to ensure that breastfeeding is well established.


If your baby isn’t gaining enough weight for his or her age (doubling his birth weight by 5 months and tripling by the first birthday), talk to your child’s healthcare provider. You may need to feed your baby more frequently, even if it means waking him or her to do it.

Diapers can tell you whether your baby is getting enough to eat. Newborns should have 2 to 3 wet diapers a day in the first few days after birth. After the first week, they should have at least 5 to 6 diapers a day.

If you’re concerned about your baby either overfeeding or underfeeding, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider.