You know that one of the most important jobs you have as a new parent is making sure your baby is fed. But choosing how to feed them, as well as knowing how much and how often your baby should eat, may feel a little overwhelming at times.

It's very common for parents to have a lot of questions about feeding their new baby (and through the first year of their life). With the help of our team of kids’ health specialists and lactation experts, we go over feeding methods for babies, including breastfeeding, formula feeding and everything in between. We’ll also talk about how much and how often your baby should eat, and newborn feeding tips so you can feel confident you’re providing your baby with the nutrition they need.

Whether you choose to exclusively breastfeed your baby, use a combination of formula and human breast milk, or exclusively pump, there are several different ways to feed your baby.

Breastfeeding (chest feeding)

Breastfeeding (or chest feeding or nursing) is when you provide milk to your baby directly from your breast. Parents often choose to breastfeed for several reasons. Research shows there are a range of breastfeeding health benefits for babies and parents, including protection for your baby from certain illnesses, and reducing your risk of certain cancers. While it's recommended to breast or chest feed if possible, because of the potential health benefits, there are also several important reasons parents choose not to, including medical conditions, work or home challenges, or personal preference.

Exclusive pumping and bottle feeding

Exclusive pumping is when you express milk from your breasts using an electric or manual breast pump, and feed your baby breast milk from a bottle. Typically, you pump as often as your baby would nurse, every 2-3 hours. Emptying each breast may take around 15-30 minutes or more depending on your pump, your supply and other factors. Establishing a pumping schedule is important for telling your body how much milk to produce for your baby, as well as avoiding clogged milk ducts or breast infections.

There are several reasons people may choose to exclusively pump. For some, challenges with getting a good latch can be a big factor in their decision. For others, it may be because they're returning to work and can't be with their baby to breastfeed on demand. For some, they may simply prefer pumping to nursing.

Baby formula

Formula closely resembles breast milk, with nutrients your baby needs. Most formulas are made with cow’s milk, but if you think your baby is allergic or sensitive to dairy, talk to your doctor for alternative options, like soy-based formulas.

There are also hydrolyzed protein formulas where proteins from dairy or soy are broken down even further than traditional or soy formulas. This type of formula is easier to digest if your baby is allergic or sensitive to dairy and soy. And sometimes, premature babies are put on specialized formula based on their needs.

Donor breast milk

Donor breast milk is just as it sounds – breast milk donated from another lactating person, but it’s been through a thorough testing and sterilization process. In the short-term, donor milk can be a great option for parents who need to supplement their baby until their own milk supply begins to increase.

Most hospitals offer donor breast milk during your stay, and your child’s doctor may also write a prescription for a local milk bank. For example, parents can walk into Methodist Hospital Health and Care Store in St. Louis Park, MN and purchase a limited amount of breast milk with a prescription from their doctor.

In the long-term, breast milk may be available for purchase from a milk bank – but this can be very expensive. The amount you’re able to get may also vary because most milk banks provide donated pasteurized human milk to babies with medical needs first.

Breast milk sources to avoid

Milk sharing – where a person provides their breast milk to a child that’s not theirs – or buying breast milk online from strangers is not recommended by medical professionals or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both of these options may pose significant health and safety risks.

If the person sharing milk with you has an infection, it can be passed on to your baby. Also, since purchasing milk online isn’t regulated, you may not know exactly what’s in it.

Combination feeding

Many parents choose to feed their baby using a combination of methods:

  • Breastfeeding and pumping – Many parents who breastfeed also pump. Early on, pumping in addition to breastfeeding can help increase your milk supply. And later on, it can help sustain your supply. This is also very common for those returning to work. This allows them to continue to provide breast milk for their baby and also maintain a breastfeeding relationship.
  • Breastfeeding and supplementing with formula (or donor milk) – Some parents may choose to breastfeed and supplement because it’s more convenient to their schedules or because they have a lower supply of breast milk. If supply is a concern for those who breastfeed, parents may also pump at certain points during the day to stimulate increased production.
  • Exclusive pumping and supplementing with formula or donor milk – Similar to those who breastfeed and supplement, those who exclusively pump may also supplement their child with formula or human donor milk.

How much should your baby eat and how often?

Pediatricians and other kids’ health specialists recommend that babies only eat breast milk or formula for the first four months of their lives, at which point babies can be introduced to solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula.

As your child gets older, their dependence on milk or formula will lessen as they take in more calories from solid food. However, it’s recommended to continue breast milk or formula for the first 12 months.

How much breast milk should a baby eat?

For those who breastfeed exclusively, it can be hard to know exactly how much breast milk your child is eating during feedings. And for those who pump, it can be hard to know exactly how much you should be bottle feeding. Most breast milk-fed babies will eat between 2-5 ounces per feeding depending on their age.

The composition of breast milk changes as babies gets older, so the amount of breast milk a baby eats doesn’t increase as much as a formula-fed baby.

  • Newborn – Newborn babies’ stomachs are tiny (about the size of a peanut M&M when they’re first born). So, for those first few days they’ll only take a little bit at a time. But those tiny tummies need to be refilled frequently – typically every 2-3 hours. The first food your body will produce is colostrum, which is packed with antibodies and white blood cells. During the first few days and weeks, you’ll be learning about your baby. Watch for hunger cues like crying, rooting at your breast and opening their mouth. By the end of their first month, the amount they eat should increase.
  • 1-6 months old – During this time, the amount your baby eats at each feeding should increase from around 2-3 ounces at a time, to between 3-5 ounces per feeding. No baby is the same, however. The amount they eat depends on their body weight.
  • 6-12 months old – While you’ll start introducing solid foods at around four months, breast milk will still be the main source of nutrients until your baby’s first birthday. As they learn how to eat solids, they’ll probably continue to eat between 3-5 ounces of breast milk during each feeding.
  • 12 months old and beyond – After 12 months, solid foods become your baby’s main source of nutrition because they've entered a new stage where they need more calories. However, there’s no set stopping point for breastfeeding. Some people choose to breastfeed past 2 years old – it all depends on what works best for you and your baby.

Breastfed baby’s feeding schedule

Early on, it may be difficult to establish a set feeding schedule if you’re breastfeeding or chest feeding. That’s because there may be times your baby wants to cluster feed – or eat at least every hour – to keep topping off their stomach or for comfort. This is most common in the evening but can happen anytime throughout the day.

An example of a breast milk-fed baby’s schedule for the first year can look like this:

How often should my breastfed baby eat?
Age of baby Frequency of feedings Number of feedings per day
0-1 month Every 2-3 hours 8-12 times per day
1-3 months Every 3-4 hours 6-8 times per day
4-6 months Every 4-5 hours 5-7 times per day
6-8 months Every 5-6 hours 4-6 times per day
9-12 months Every 6-7 hours 3-5 times per day

How much formula should your baby eat?

It’s easy to track how much a formula-fed baby eats, as bottles are prepared according to ounces. It’s important not to overfeed, so be sure to watch for hunger cues and don’t force your baby to finish their bottle if they indicate they’re full.

  • Newborn – Since newborn stomachs are very small, the amount of formula a baby may eat in the first couple days will be about half an ounce, eventually increasing to 1-2 ounces per feeding in those first couple weeks, and then 2-3 ounces until they’re around 2 months old. While you’ll likely be feeding on a schedule (which we’ll cover below), you’ll still be watching for hunger cues, like crying or opening their mouths, so it’s okay to feed on demand.
  • 2 months old – Offer your baby 3-6 ounces per feeding, for a total of 18-24 ounces per day.
  • 3-4 months old – Feed your baby 4-7 ounces at a time, for a total of 24-32 ounces per day. Your doctor may also recommend starting solid foods, but formula will be your baby’s main source of nutrition.
  • 5-6 months old – Typically at this age, babies drink 6-8 ounces per feeding, for a total of 24-32 ounces per day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies 6 months old and younger should have no more than 32 ounces of formula per day.
  • 6-12 months old – At this point, your baby will likely be regularly eating solid foods, but will still need formula. Depending on how many solids they eat and their age, your baby may drink between 24-32 ounces of formula per day.
  • 12 months old and beyond – Your baby can eat solid foods at regular mealtimes, as well as cow’s milk or a milk alternative from a cup, rather than a bottle. Depending on your baby, they likely won’t need formula, but talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about how much your baby is eating.

Formula-fed (or breast milk, bottle-fed) baby’s eating schedule

For those who feed their baby formula (or bottle feed their baby breast milk), settling into a feeding schedule may take a little less time than those who breastfeed. A bottle-fed baby’s feeding schedule may look something like this:

How often should my bottle-fed baby eat?
Age of baby Frequency of feedings Number of feedings per day
0-1 month Every 2-3 hours 8-12 times per day
1-3 months Every 3-4 hours 6-8 times per day
4-6 months Every 4-6 hours 4-6 times per day
6-8 months Every 5 hours 5 times per day
9-12 months Every 6-8 hours 3-5 times per day

Signs your baby isn’t eating enough

While making sure your baby is eating enough will be top of mind for months and even years, those first few weeks are the most crucial to their health and development.

Weight gain is one of the biggest indicators of whether a baby is getting enough to eat. Typically, babies gain around 1 ounce a day for the first few months. Other signs that babies may not be getting enough to eat is they’re sleeping longer than usual or acting sluggish, or baby isn’t producing poop, or their urine is not pale in color.

If you’re breastfeeding or chest feeding, very short or very long feeds can also be a sign that they’re either giving up or trying very hard to transfer milk from your breasts. If you’re formula feeding and your baby doesn’t want to take a bottle, it may be that their bottle’s nipple is too big, or the flow of formula is too slow or too fast.

If you’re breastfeeding or pumping, and concerned your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, make an appointment with a lactation consultant or your baby’s clinician. A lactation consultant and clinician can provide a range of education and support services. If you’re formula feeding, make an appointment with your baby’s doctor.

Newborn feeding tips

Feeding a baby isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. Whether you are new to parenting or have multiple kids, every baby is different, and your baby may just need a little help to nurse or take a bottle.

  • Feed your baby on their cues – Newborn babies grow and change quickly. And while you’ll eventually get to a more predictable feeding schedule, for those first couple months baby will make the schedule. Learning their early hunger cues, like an open mouth or rooting, can help make sure your baby is getting what they need, when they need it.
  • Talk to your baby’s doctor about using vitamin D drops if you’re breastfeeding – Vitamin D helps support healthy bone growth in babies, and it’s often recommended as a supplement for breast milk-fed babies. Babies who are exclusively formula-fed don’t need the extra supplement as infant formulas already have the necessary amount of vitamin D. It’s important to talk with your child’s doctor before adding any supplements to your baby’s diet.
  • Use feeding time for bonding time – Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding your baby, use the time as an opportunity to build your relationship with your baby. They may not be able to talk back, but it’s still soothing to hear your voice.
  • Take care of yourself, too – It’s not easy being the parent of a newborn. Make sure you’re making time to take care of your own physical and mental health, as well as your baby.

Help and support for feeding your baby

Whether you choose breastfeeding, formula feeding or a combination of feeding methods, know that your care team is here to support you.