What’s “normal” when it comes to your baby’s eating?
If you’re worried that your tiny tot isn’t getting enough nutrition, read on to find the answer!
One of the most maddening questions I received as a new mother was, “Is she eating enough?”
I breastfed both of my babies, and the first time around, as I was learning what to do, that question made me feel particularly inadequate.
The implication I heard in the question was that my body and I were doing something wrong, and that’s why my baby had colic/wasn’t sleeping through the night/wasn’t a child prodigy straight out of the womb.
What’s Normal When it Comes to Your Baby’s Eating
Fortunately, our pediatrician was an incredible woman, a mom of three young boys herself, who kindly reassured me every step of the way. She helped me understand that while my baby was tiny and fell below the WHO growth chart for weight, she tracked with herself.
She didn’t lose weight from one appointment to the next, and she followed her own path with a consistent positive upward trend – that trend was just within the 5th percentile or below.
If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you’re either worried about your own baby’s eating habits or you are worried about a baby you love and whether or not he is eating enough.
I’m going to share some general guidelines about “normal” intake for a baby, but please keep in mind that every baby follows his or her own trajectory. Use your mama or papa instinct, and if you trust your pediatrician (if you don’t, find a new one), let her guide you to understand what is right for your baby.
One more disclaimer I have to add before we dig in – if you’re nursing and you are not producing enough or your milk is not nutrient-dense or you and your baby cannot find the right way to nurse, and you need to supplement or switch to formula, you have done nothing wrong.
Let go of that guilt right now because a healthy, happy mama is much more important for your baby than breastmilk. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about your baby’s stomach!
A Newborn’s Stomach
Thanks to a 2001 study done by Zangen et al, we know that a newborn baby’s tiny stomach is not terribly compliant or relaxed when they are first born. While in-utero and being fed by the umbilical cord, the stomach doesn’t need to expand or contract.
Nature’s got it all figured out – the study showed that in the first 3 days after birth, the baby’s stomach becomes both more compliant and more relaxed, meaning it starts to stretch and grow (and this timing typically coincides with when a mother’s mature milk comes in).
With very tiny, firm, and tight tummies, frequent and small feedings are required. A day old baby’s tummy can hold roughly 5-7 mL and is about the size of a cherry (here’s a neat chart that shows the stomach’s growth in early infancy).
During these first few days, a breastfeeding mother’s colostrum (a.k.a. liquid gold) is often all a baby needs as the stomach is starting to expand.
If you’re not planning to breastfeed, don’t worry – the study showed that there was no difference in compliancy or relaxation of the stomach between babies who were fed breastmilk versus formula.
Feed on Demand
With your newborn’s stomach being so small, you may feel like you are constantly feeding your baby. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can feed an extra couple mL to extend the time between feedings. Since the stomach in those early days cannot expand, all you’ll do is cause your baby to spit up.
Plan to offer the breast or a bottle every 2-3 hours and let your baby guide how much he wants to eat. When he pulls away, follow his cues that he’s finished – this will prevent him from starting to overfeed.
If you are breastfeeding, on-demand feeding is what will help your mature milk to come in and increase your supply. Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand – the more your baby drinks, the more your body produces.
A good gauge for whether or not your baby is feeding enough is her output; wet and soiled diapers are a fantastic guide. In the first couple of days, expect a least a couple of wet diapers, as well as meconium stool (black and sticky – it’s the rest of the amniotic fluid and other substances working its way out of your baby’s system).
After a few days, you should have 3-5 wet diapers and 1-2 soiled diapers. By a week, expect 5-7 wet and 1-2 soiled diapers a day (you’ll likely get more soiled diapers if you are breastfeeding). Here’s a good guide for output in formula-fed babies.
Increase as Your Baby’s Ready
At around a week old, most babies’ stomachs can hold 30-60 mL (roughly 1-2 oz.) at a time. Again, plan to spread out these feedings to every 2-3 hours. After 2 weeks, the stomach volume doubles, allowing anywhere from 2.5-5 oz. in one feeding.
The 2-3 hour mark is a good guideline to follow until you see that your baby is eating closer to 4-5 oz. per feeding session. Then, you may want to start spreading them out to every 3-4 hours.
Is Your Baby Hungry or Bored?
As you and your baby are getting to know each other, you’ll start to figure out your baby’s cues.
Often, I find that well-intentioned grandparents (they are the most common culprits, but you’ll find even strangers at the store will have an opinion) assume that every time a baby cries, it must mean that the baby is hungry. Try not to fall into that trap.
In a class I took while pregnant with my first, the instructor encouraged trying to get on an eating, sleeping, playing schedule with the baby. That way, there was intention behind the routine, and the schedule would help everyone know what came next. This also helped curb the instinct to feed every time there was crying.
Crying may mean your baby needs a new activity because she’s bored with what she’s doing. It can also mean she’s feeling overwhelmed by new sights and sounds and needs a little quiet time.
Need some ideas to entertain your baby? Check out these 9 Activities for Babies Age 3-6 Months That You Never Thought Of!
Try to figure out if your baby needs something other than milk or formula before automatically soothing with food.
While there are guidelines you can follow about the size of your baby’s stomach and feeding schedules, remember that “normal” varies greatly.
One newborn may cluster-feed for several hours in the evening and consume less during the rest of the day, whereas another will feed consistently every few hours. One month-old baby may take 3 oz. at each feeding, whereas another takes 4 oz.
What is important to remember is that if your baby is gaining weight and has plenty of wet and soiled diapers, he is eating enough. Of course, if you are worried about the amount your baby is consuming, talk with your pediatrician for guidance.
In most healthy babies, the guidelines to follow for your baby are the ones he sets!