What to Know About Feeding Your Newborn
Contributing Expert: Tara Kotagal, MD
This post is part of our newborn health and wellness series. For more information from our pediatric experts, visit our Newborn Resources page.
Parents of newborns have many questions around feeding. They wonder how much and how often their baby needs to eat. They wonder about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. And they worry over what behaviors are normal.
To help you and your newborn get a great start, let’s review some basics about newborn feeding.
How Much Milk Does Your Newborn Need?
The stomach of a newborn is only about the size of a grape, and it grows over time. As they grow, their capacity to eat grows and they can take in more per feeding.
A six-day-old baby has different needs than a six-week-old baby. That’s why it’s helpful to break feeding into stages.
Feeding in the First 2 Weeks of Life
Some guidelines for feeding your newborn in the first days of life:
- Amount: Aim for 1 – 3 ounces per feeding.
- Frequency: In a 24-hour period, aim for about eight feeds, which is once every three hours.
- Duration: 15 minutes is an average feeding, but a feeding could stretch as long as 30 minutes.
- Goal: Most babies lose a little bit of weight after birth. Your baby’s goal in the first two weeks of life is to get back to their birth weight.
Feeding 2 Weeks to 2 Months
Some guidelines for feeding newborns after they are back to their birthweight:
- Amount: Gradually increase the amount of milk offered, based on what your baby will tolerate.
- Frequency: You may want to keep your baby on a feeding schedule during the day. As your baby sleeps for longer stretches overnight, you can go longer between feeds. Look for hunger and feeding cues, like rooting (searching for food), smacking lips and sticking tongue out.
- Duration: Babies learn to be more efficient as they get better at eating, so don’t be surprised if they eat more quickly.
- Goal: Your baby’s goal is to continue to grow, but also to learn to sleep for longer stretches (which means going longer between feedings at night).
Can You Do Both Formula and Breastfeeding?
There are many reasons why parents may choose to breastfeed or use formula to feed a baby. Ultimately, there is no wrong way to feed your baby and fed is best.
If you are breastfeeding and need support, think of your pediatrician as your partner. They can help connect you with resources to help.
In many cases, parents may offer a combination of breast milk and formula. In general, it’s best to offer the breast before formula, to help maintain a nursing parent’s milk supply. You should always talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns.
Breastfed babies will need vitamin D drops until they begin to transition to cow’s milk (at one year old).
What About Spit-Up and Hiccups When Feeding Newborns?
Babies are noisy creatures. They tend to make various sounds when feeding, including sucking and snorting noises.
Babies often get the hiccups after eating. Hiccups are not dangerous and should not be a major cause for concern.
They can also spit up — a lot. Parents may worry their baby isn’t getting enough because they are spitting up so frequently. Remember that your pediatrician will be tracking your baby’s weight gain carefully and will let you know if something is amiss.
There are any number of other noises a baby might make. If your baby is routinely making a noise that you’re not certain about, don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician about it.
How to Feed a Newborn
Your care team in the hospital and in clinic can show you tips and techniques for feeding your baby. If you are breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can be invaluable for helping with latch and position. Please ask your pediatrician if you need resources.
If you are giving your baby a bottle, try to offer your baby paced bottle feeds and make sure your baby’s head is supported. Take breaks to help with burping and digestion. As you start to learn your baby’s feeding cues, you’ll develop a routine.
There are many positions which you can use to nurse your baby. It may take trial and error to find a position that works for you. You may need to use pillows or ergonomic support to find the perfect nursing position.
Regardless of what position you use, the goal is to aim for a proper latch. As your baby feeds, listen for sounds of sucking and swallowing.
A few common breastfeeding positions include:
- Traditional cradle-hold: Use the arm on the same side as the breast you’re offering to support your baby. Support your baby’s head in the crook of your elbow as your forearm holds their back and your hand supports their bottom.
- Cross-cradle hold: This is similar to the traditional hold, except you use the arm opposite the breast to support your baby. This means your hand will be supporting the baby’s neck instead of their bottom. This can be a good position for a baby struggling to latch, because you can better guide their head.
- Clutch or football hold: You use both arms to “clutch” your baby (the way a player might hold a football when running). Hold your baby to the side of the breast you’re using, tucking their body against your side. This can be a good position for parents who have had a C-section, because it keeps the baby away from your incision.
- Lying down: There are different ways you can feed lying down, from the first skin-to-skin contact when you’re on your back, to placing the baby to your side while you both lie down.
Find more thorough descriptions and illustrations of various breastfeeding positions.
Never hesitate to ask your pediatrician for support.
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