Babies only have a few basic jobs: eat, sleep, poop…and be cute! So why is figuring out the eating part so hard?! Whether you’re a seasoned parent or new to the game, it’s common for many waves of feeding questions to flood your mind. Is my baby getting enough milk? How often should my baby eat? How do I know when my baby is hungry? To help your little one and you do your jobs well, it’s essential to understand the whys and hows—and the dos and don’ts—of baby feeding. Though every baby has their own unique needs, this guide will help you feed your baby throughout their first year of life.

Why Babies Eat So Often

If you were growing and developing as rapidly as your munchkin, you’d be super hungry, too! During your infant’s first month, they’ll gain about 1 ounce each day and grow up to about 1 ½ inches. They simply need a lot of good nutrition to support all that growth! At the same time, babies eat often because their stomachs are teeny and can only hold so much breastmilk or formula. Think about it like this: While your stomach is about the size of a softball, here’s how big your baby’s stomach is:

  • Day 1: Baby’s stomach is the size of a marble

  • Day 3: Baby’s stomach is the size of a ping-pong ball

  • Day 7: Baby’s stomach is the size of a plum or apricot

  • 1 month old: Baby’s stomach is the size of a large chicken egg

Signs Your Baby Is Hungry or Full

As new parents, we anticipate that we will be teaching our children everything they know, but we often fail to realize that our children will be teaching us, too! One fantastic lesson we can all learn from our babies is how to listen to our bodies. As adults, it’s easy for us to override our bodies’ cues for hunger and fullness. (Think of how you might feel after gorging on mashed potatoes and stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner!) Babies, on the other hand, have an impressive ability to regulate their hunger and fullness by tuning into their internal cues.

Signs Newborns Are Hungry or Full

While your baby may not be saying (or signing) “more” and “all done” yet, rest assured they’re still letting you know they’re hungry and full. While research suggests that breastfed infants may show more hunger and fullness cues than formula-fed babies, all babies offer subtle—and not so subtle—signs that they’re ready to eat or that they’re done with their meal.

Some signs your baby is hungry in their first few months are:

  • Bringing hands to mouth

  • Puckering, licking, or smacking lips

  • Sucking on everything around

  • Turning head and opening mouth when face is touched (rooting)

  • Tightening arms and legs

  • Clenching fingers or firsts over chest and belly

Crying is a late sign of hunger, which means your bub likely offered earlier signs of hunger before they began fussing. But crying and sucking aren’t always hunger cues. Babies suck for comfort, too, so it’ll take some time to tell the difference.

Some signs your baby is full in their first few months are:

  • Turning head away from breast or bottle

  • Starting and stopping throughout a feed

  • Unlatching often

  • Closing or sealing lips

  • Relaxing hands, arms. and body

  • Falling asleep

Interestingly, research in the journal Appetite finds that an infant’s gaze often indicates that a baby is hungry and satiated.

If your baby was born prematurely, they might show hunger and fullness cues differently from full-term babies. In fact, research finds that the hunger cues may be unreliable in preterm infants. And that’s likely part of the reason the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) noted that scheduled feedings advised by your pediatrician are a better idea.

Signs Older Babies Are Hungry or Full

Starting at around 6 months—when many babies begin to eat solid foods—hunger and fullness cues start to evolve. Here are some tell-tales that your little one is hungry or full:

  • Reaching or pointing to food

  • Opening their mouth when offered a spoon or food

  • Showing signs of excitement when they see food

  • Using hand motions to show they’re still hungry

  • Making sounds to let you know they want more to eat

Your baby may be full if they’re:

  • Pushing food away

  • Closing their mouth when food’s offered

  • Turning their head away from food

  • Using hand motions to show they’re full

  • Making sounds to let you know they’re all done

The Best Way to Feed Your Baby: Responsive Feeding

Whether breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or combo feeding, the best way to provide your baby with the milk they need is responsive feeding. With responsive feeding, you don’t rely on the clock or a schedule to determine the best time to feed your baby. Instead, you offer your little one a meal based on their hunger and fullness cues. Responsive feeding gives your baby a healthy start to life, notes the AAP, because it:

  • Helps babies develop healthy eating habits

  • Makes mealtimes easier

  • Teaches children how to feed themselves

  • Teaches children how to self-regulate

  • Lowers the chance of overfeeding and overeating

  • Builds trust and bonds between you and your baby

How to Practice Responsive Feeding

First, learn your baby’s hunger and fullness cues—and pay attention to them! To help you do that, follow these suggestions:

  • Put away distractions, like phones and screens, when feeding your baby.

  • Make sure your child is comfortable and undistracted as well.

  • Promptly respond to your little one’s cues.

  • Don’t encourage your baby to finish their meals if they’ve pulled away several times.

  • Remember the golden rule of responsive feeding: You provide, Baby decides!

  • If you’re worried your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, don’t force more food! Instead, call your doctor for advice and support.

How to Know Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk

For babies who nurse at the breast, it can be stressful for parents to not know how many ounces of breastmilk their baby is taking at a time. If your baby is formula-fed, you may know exactly how much formula they take at feedings…but you still may wonder if they are getting what they need.

Signs your baby is getting enough milk:

  • Your baby is generally happy after feedings.

  • Your baby has frequent wet and dirty diapers.

  • The pediatrician says your baby is growing well.

How to Tell If Your Baby Needs More Milk

Usually, your baby gets hungry every two hours, but suddenly they want to nurse or take formula every half hour! What happened? If your baby seems to be hungrier or fussier than normal, they may be experiencing a growth spurt.

Though every baby is different, there is a typical timeline for growth spurts:

  • 7 to 10 days

  • Between 3 and 6 weeks

  • 3 months

  • 6 months

  • 9 months

There may also be times your baby wants to nurse back-to-back. You nursed your baby 15 minutes ago, and now they’re rooting again. This is called cluster feeding, and it’s completely normal. Breastmilk or formula amounts needed will vary by baby, so follow your baby’s lead to know when to offer more milk.

Newborn Feeding Schedule

Newborn babies need breastmilk or iron-fortified infant formula to survive and thrive. Some caregivers choose to provide both breastmilk and baby formula depending on the needs of the baby and the family.

Newborn Feeding Schedule for Breastfed Babies

Since newborn babies have such tiny bellies, exclusively breastfed infants may eat every 1 to 3 hours. Frequent breastfeeding is essential for your body to make more breastmilk. Breastfeed your baby 8 to 12 times each day to maintain a solid milk supply.

Newborn Feeding Schedule for Formula-Fed Babies

Formula-fed babies may take anywhere between 1 to 2 ounces at feedings every 2 to 3 hours. Most formula-fed newborns eat 8 to 12 times over the course of 24 hours.

Baby Feeding Schedule: 1 to 3 Months

Feeding Schedule for Breastfed Babies

By now, your baby has grown more skilled at breastfeeding and may get milk more efficiently than they used to! Your baby may eat less frequently than they did in the newborn stage, but it’s still important to offer breastmilk as often as your baby needs to nurse at least eight times daily. In most cases, exclusively breastfed little ones feed about every 2 to 4 hours, which shakes out to be between 8 and 12 times in a 24-hour period.

Feeding Schedule for Formula-Fed Babies

Your formula-fed infant may be taking 4 to 5 ounces of baby formula every 3 to 4 hours starting around 2 months of age. Most babies will up the amount of infant formula they drink by an average of 1 ounce each month before they level off at about 7 to 8 ounces per feeding.

Bottle-feeding warning: Around this age, folks may try to persuade you to offer your baby cereal in the bottle. Don’t listen! (The AAP advises against this practice.) Babies are too young for infant cereal and still require a diet of 100% breastmilk or formula. Giving solids at this age to help babies sleep through the night is a myth and can actually harm your baby. Hold off on introducing other foods for a bit longer because starting solids is just around the corner!

Baby Feeding Schedule: 4 to 6 months

Feeding Schedule for Breastfed Babies

You and your little one have likely established an excellent breastfeeding rhythm at this point. It’s recommended to continue following your baby’s hunger and fullness cues and breastfeed on demand. On average, by 6 months old, your baby will breastfeed around 6 times a day. (The AAP recommends continuing exclusively breastfeeding and waiting to start solids until 6 months.)

Feeding Schedule for Formula-Fed Babies

Formula-wise, your lovebug may have graduated to greater formula amounts by now. At 4 months, babies may take 4 to 6 ounces of formula at each feeding. By 6 months, that can bump up to between 6 and 8 ounces about 4 to 5 times a day. Though every baby is different and may require more or less formula at a feeding, the general rule of thumb is that they should take 2.5 ounces of baby formula per pound of body weight each day. So, if you have a 14-pound baby, they might be taking 35 ounces of formula in 24 hours.

Signs of Readiness for Solids

Around 4 to 6 months, babies may begin to show signs they are ready to start solids. (Introducing foods before 4 months old is not recommended.) Beyond weighing about 13 pounds or more, here are some clues that your little one is angling to add some items to the menu:

  • Your baby can sit up on their own for at least a minute.

  • Your baby is interested in food.

  • Baby opens their mouth when presented with a spoon.

  • Your little one closes their mouth over a spoon and pulls food off the spoon.

  • Your bub grabs at food.

Depending on the baby, these signs of solid food readiness often show up anywhere between months 4, 5, or 6. When your baby is ready for solids, it’s a great time to excite their palates with a few tastes of single-ingredient purees. Do so every three to five days to make sure there are no food allergies. (PS: There’s zero evidence that your baby will wind up disliking veggies if you serve up fruit first…so proceed how you wish!)

Baby Feeding Schedule: 6 to 8 months

Feeding Schedule for Breastfed Babies

Continue breastfeeding your baby on demand. If you’re pumping, you can offer breastmilk in a sippy cup with handles. (Learn how to introduce your little one to a cup.)

Feeding Schedule for Formula-Fed Babies

On average, formula-fed babies need 24 to 32 ounces daily at this point since they also get nutrition through the solids you’ve introduced. This is a great time to consider offering formula in a sippy cup with handles.

Complementary Feeding for Breast- and Formula-fed Babies

Though breastmilk and infant formula are still the top nutrition sources needed by babies, there are new nutrition requirements that come from introducing solid foods. (Learn which purees to offer first.) Below, you’ll find the nutrition needs for babies ages 6 to 8 months by food group.

Grains: 1 to 2 ounces daily

  • Iron-fortified infant cereals (barley, multigrain, oatmeal—avoid rice cereal)
  • Soft bread and crackers

Fruits: 2 to 4 ounces daily

  • Mashed, strained, or pureed fruits such as bananas, apples, pears, prunes, and avocados

Vegetables: 2 to 4 ounces daily

  • Mashed, strained, or pureed vegetables such as carrots, peas, green beans, potatoes, and squash

Protein: 1 to 2 ounces daily

It is no longer recommended to hold off introducing baby-safe (soft) eggs, dairy, soy, peanut products, or fish to help prevent food allergies. But it is advisable to test your baby for a peanut allergy if they have severe eczema and/or a verified egg allergy. (Learn more about introducing babies to nuts.)

While healthy babies don’t need extra water, you can start offering your little one 4 to 8 ounces of plain water daily. Use an open, sippy, or straw cup.

Baby Feeding Schedule: 9 to 12 months

Feeding Schedule for Breastfed Babies

Congratulations on continuing to offer your baby breastmilk! You should feel proud of all you’ve done to provide your baby with these benefits. It’s recommended to breastfeed until 12 months of age, but if everything is going well for you and your baby, you can feel free to breastfeed beyond your baby’s first year.

Feeding Schedule for Formula-Fed Babies

On average, babies this age need at least 24 ounces of formula daily (they are also getting some nutrition through the solids you’ve been introducing). That 24 ounces of infant formula might be divided into three 8-ounce bottles or four 6-ounce bottles throughout the day, depending on your baby’s needs.

Complementary Baby Feeding Schedule for Breast- and Formula-fed Babies

By now, your baby is using their pointer finger and thumb to pick up smaller pieces of foods or finger foods. They’re also ready to trade in strained purees for coarser eats. Below, you’ll find the nutrition needs for infants ages 9 to 12 months by food group.

Grains: 2 to 4 ounces daily

  • Iron-fortified infant cereals (barley, multigrain, oatmeal—avoid rice cereal)
  • Bread, crackers, noodles, rice, corn, quinoa, grits, or soft pieces of tortilla

Fruits: 4 to 6 ounces daily

  • Chopped, diced, or ground fruits, such as bananas, apples, pears, peaches, and avocados

Vegetables: 4 to 6 ounces daily

  • Chopped, diced, or ground vegetables, such as carrots, peas, green beans, potatoes, and squash

Protein: 2 to 4 ounces daily

  • Shredded or cut up meat, poultry, fish
  • Fork mashed beans
  • Eggs, lentils, diced cheese, and yogurt

Foods to Avoid in the First Year of Life

Some foods and beverages are plain and simple unsafe for your baby to eat. And others are unhealthy choices. Here’s a quick guide to what to keep off your baby’s menu:

  • Cow’s milk: Cow’s milk lacks the nutrition babies need to thrive. Moreover, giving cow’s milk to babies can cause health problems, like intestinal bleeding, and poor growth. (More on toddlers and milk.)

  • Milk alternatives: Soy, oat, rice, coconut, cashew, and almond milk are off limits for babies under a year old.

  • Juice: Babies don’t need juice! Juice after 12 months old is not necessary, but between 1 and 3 years old, it’s okay for your little one to have no more than 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day…and never in a baby bottle!

  • Unpasteurized foods and drinks: Beyond juices and raw milk, unpasteurized yogurt and cheeses may put your bub at risk for a harmful bacteria that can bring about severe diarrhea.

  • Honey: Consuming honey before 12 months old puts babies at risk for contracting illness from Clostridium botulinum which can cause severe illness and death.

  • High-salt foods: Processed meats (like deli meat), frozen meals, some canned foods, some store-bought toddler foods, and more are high in salt and should be avoided.

  • Added sugar: Foods with added sugar (and low- or no-calorie sweeteners) can include flavored yogurts, muffins, cookies, flavored milks, flavored water, and more.

  • Choking Risks: Foods that can cause choking in infants include (but aren’t limited to) hot dogs, grapes, hard candies, nuts, seeds, popcorn, chunks of nut butter, sausages, gum, and bones. (Learn more about choking hazards.)

 

More Baby Feeding Info:

About Gabrielle McPherson

Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN, LDN is registered dietitian in Missouri who specializes in community and pediatric nutrition. Gaby is passionate about encouraging families to eat well in simple, practical ways that are realistic...and delicious! When not working, Gaby loves cooking, baking, and making messes and memories with her sous-chef/preschooler Charlotte.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.