Making sure your baby is getting enough to eat can be stressful, at any age. If you’re wondering how much a breastfed baby should eat, you are in the right place. Whether you’re curious about how much a breastfed baby should eat on day one or 9 months in, this post will lay out some of the research and recommendations around milk intake for breastfed babies.
To understand how much milk your baby needs, it’s important to know a little bit about how breastfeeding works—and how it differs from formula feeding, even if your baby gets every single breast milk feed from a bottle!
How is Breastfeeding Different from Formula Feeding?
Formula works well for many babies, and definitely has its place. That said, it’s important to understand the differences between human milk and formula as we look for what works best for individual moms, babies, and families. Below are some of those differences, and understanding these can help you know why your breastfed baby’s feeding might look different from a formula-fed baby.
Breastfed babies tend to feed “on demand,” meaning that they may prefer to do several feedings in a short time frame, and then at another point in the day, do a more consolidated feeding. The timing of their milk intake may fluctuate, even though their total intake usually does and should stay the same from day to day.
Ideally a bottle of formula is the same every time you make it. However breast milk changes from feed to feed and is different based on things like time of day and what’s happening in your body and in your baby’s body.
Cow’s milk, which many formulas are created from, has much more protein than human breast milk. For that reason it can take longer to digest than breast milk, and the intake of a breastfed baby may appear different than that of a formula fed baby.
In addition to understanding differences between formula and breastfeeding, it also helps to understand differences between “direct feeding,” meaning breastfeeding directly from your body and pumping breast milk for your baby. Nutritionally, the content of the milk is the same, but the difference in removal can make a difference in the amount of milk.
How is Pumping Different from Directly Breastfeeding?
If you’ve spent time breastfeeding your baby at the breast and also spent any time pumping, you can probably name all sorts of ways the process is different. Breast pumps are fantastic things that allow many mothers to provide milk to their little ones, and it’s also true that nothing gets milk out of the body quite like your baby. For that reason, the amount of milk a baby gets from nursing at the breast can vary somewhat from the amount of milk they drink from a bottle or other device (methods like cup or spoon feeding are sometimes used, particularly in the early days of a baby’s life). If some or all of your baby’s feeds are happening at your breast, you likely won’t know the exact amount each time. In that case (and in general), it’s important to know other signs that indicate your little one is eating the right amount for their growth and development.
Is My Baby Eating Enough?
The question behind “how much should baby eat?” is often actually “is my baby getting enough milk?” Thankfully there are some things to watch for that help us answer these questions. If you’re unsure your baby is getting enough to eat, here are some things to look for and discuss with your pediatrician, lactation counselor or consultant, or other care providers:
- Wet and dirty diapers.What goes in...must come out. Your baby’s diaper output is one key sign that they are (or aren’t) getting enough to eat. Early on, your baby should generally have one dirty diaper for each day of life. (For example, one poop on their birthday, two poops at two days old, etc.) After day four, your baby should have 3-4 bowel movements per day. This can vary, but if it does, talk with your pediatrician and other care providers to ensure everything is okay. Similarly, your baby should have one wet diaper for each day of life for the first few days. After that, once your milk comes in, 5-6+ wet diapers per day is normal.
- Growth.Tracking your baby’s growth, particularly their weight gain is another important indicator that your little one is getting all the milk that they need. Based on calculations based on the WHO child growth standards,infants should gain around 5.5-8.5 ounces per week from their first week until around 4 months of age. At that point, you can expect your baby to gain 3.25-4.5 ounces per week from age 4-6 months, and then 1.75-2.75 ounces per week from 6-12 months of age.
- Mood and temperament. Babies who are getting enough milk will generally show signs of satiation. When their bellies are full, well-fed babies will often have moments of calm and alert. Food isn’t the only thing that affects a baby’s mood, but your child’s temperament can help reassure you that they’re feeding well in addition to letting you know if or when issues arise.
With these things in mind, here are some general rules of thumb when you’re asking yourself (or the internet), “how much should my baby eat?” The amounts listed here come from a variety of studies, gathered in a KellyMom article titled “How much expressed milk will my baby need?”
How much should my baby eat?
A baby’s first few days and weeks earthside are an important time to be sure that they are eating well. Colostrum is the first milk, often called “liquid gold.” At birth, your baby’s stomach is quite small and they have little energy for long stretches of wakefulness or time away from their caregivers. The size of a newborn’s stomach varies, and we don’t know the exact stomach size. It’s often said that a newborn’s stomach holds 5-7 mL initially, but more recent studies show that newborn stomach size is closer to 20-30 mL at the first hour after birth. In any case, it’s unlikely that you know your exact stomach size, and yet you still know when you are hungry or full, and your baby will too. At 5 days, breastfed babies on average drink around 16 ounces of milk in a 24 hour period.
To learn more about how much a newborn should eat, check out the Empowered Blog post on that topic.
By one month, your baby and their stomach have likely grown quite a bit, and their belly now holds around 80-150 mL, is about the size of a large egg. By one month, most breastfed babies drink around 24 ounces of milk in a day. (Perhaps the easiest number to remember—an ounce an hour—though hopefully with a few bigger feedings in there somewhere so that you can get a break.)
Though your baby will continue growing rapidly at this time, and is likely much bigger than they were at one month old, their milk intake stays about the same through these months. According to a variety of studies, breastfed babies drank between 24 and 30 ounces of milk at this age.
Your baby will likely expand their nutrition sources in this window, starting solids around six months. Though it may be slow going at first, with more food on the floor than in baby’s tummy, eventually your baby will start to get a good portion of their daily nutritional intake from solids, in addition to your milk. When they start to eat other food, the amount of milk your baby needs daily will vary based on their intake of foods other than breastmilk. In the first few months of starting solids, many breastfed babies continue to drink about the same amount, needing 24-30 ounces of milk per day.
At this age, many breastfed babies begin to get less of their calories from milk and their intake is often between 16.5 and 19 ounces per day. This can vary, however, and it’s important to be sure your baby is getting the food they need to grow and develop, so if you’re unsure about your baby’s food and milk intake, consult with your pediatrician or lactation consultant.
Your baby will likely continue drinking slightly less milk as they get older and pass their first birthday. The nutrients and other benefits they get from your milk continue, even if your little one is relying on you less and less for their caloric intake throughout the day. Between 12 and 36 months, children who continue to breastfeed drink between 10 and 18 ounces per day.
When determining how much a breastfed baby should eat, you might also have questions about supplements and ensuring that your baby is getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that they need to grow and thrive. Common supplements for babies include Vitamin D, iron, and probiotics. You can read more about the benefits of adding these foods to your baby’s diet, and discuss introducing them with your child’s care provider. Vitamin D is often given in drop form, and either placed on your nipple or added to your baby’s bottle. Iron supplements are also available in drop form, and can also be added to your baby’s diet in fortified cereals or meat when you start to introduce solids. Probiotics are often given to infants in a powder form and added to a bottle, especially for babies who were premature, had a cesarean birth, or have been given antibiotics. You may also be able to change your own diet or supplement routine and affect your milk—and therefore your baby’s diet—that way.
While it can be helpful to know the numbers behind questions like “how much should a breastfed baby eat?”, it’s also important to remember that each baby is different. It’s very normal for breastfed babies to feed often, and learning your baby’s hunger cues so that you can feed them on demand is a good way to be sure your baby is eating as they should. The guidelines above are what we generally expect a breastfed baby to eat, and if you have any concerns, it’s a good idea to reach out to your care providers to create a plan that meets your baby’s specific needs.