HOW MUCH BREAST MILK DOES A BABY NEED? WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
A common question new parents have is how much breast milk does a baby need?
As a new breastfeeding mom, you want to make sure your baby gets the right amount of breastmilk. You also want to know how to avoid overfeeding baby if you need to supplement nursing with bottles of pumped breast milk or formula.
My first response to this question of how much milk does a baby need is always the same.
Your baby needs as much milk as it takes to support growth at a normal rate.
But I know you want something more specific and practical than that answer.
How much milk baby needs depends on several factors. It is important to remember that your baby may need a different amount than another baby you know who is the same age.
WHAT THINGS THAT AFFECT HOW MUCH BREAST MILK DOES A BABY NEED?
- Baby’s age
- How frequently your baby eats
- Baby’s weight
- Is baby getting calories from other sources like formula or solids?
HOW MUCH DOES A NEWBORN NEED TO EAT?
Mothers have often expressed concern that they don’t have anything to feed their baby when he is first born. They say things to me like, “He’s not getting anything because I don’t have milk yet.”
When your baby is born, you have colostrum, which is the perfect food for your newborn. Your breasts make colostrum in the ideal amount for the size of your baby’s stomach.
Even moms who know all about the amazing colostrum that they have, they may still be concerned that it is not enough.
It doesn’t take much to fill a newborn’s tummy.
HOW BIG IS A NEWBORN’S STOMACH?
In the first twenty-four hours of life, your newborn’s stomach can comfortably hold about two to ten ml (Source). Their stomach is not very stretchy initially. As each day passes, they can eat more, and their stomach becomes more stretchy.
Your breasts will continue to make colostrum until your milk comes in.
The second twenty-four hours (24 to 48 hours), a baby will typically eat five to fifteen ml.
On the third day (48 to 72 hours), a feeding averages 15 to 30 ml.
By your baby’s fourth day, his average feeding is 30 to 60 ml.
HOW MUCH COLOSTRUM DOES A NEWBORN BABY NEED?
Colostrum is your baby’s first food. This special early milk is the perfect food for a newborn baby.
Your breasts start to make colostrum early in your second trimester of pregnancy.
It is produced in small amounts, which matches the capacity of your baby’s tiny little tummy.
It is normal for babies to lose weight in their first few days of life. This is true of formula-fed babies as well.
We don’t like to see a baby lose more than ten percent of their birth weight.
Your baby needs enough colostrum to keep him adequately hydrated and to prevent an excessive amount of weight loss.
Signs That Your Baby Is Adequately Hydrated
- Her mouth is moist. The inside of her mouth should not feel sticky or dry.
- Her lips may look dry, but often it is just a normal sucking blister.
- Don’t check her mouth if she has just been crying because it will almost certainly feel sticky.
- Her temperature is in the normal range.
- She has as many diapers as days old she is.
- First 24 hours, at least one wet diaper
- 24 – 48 hours at least two wet diapers
- 48 – 72 hours at least three wet diapers, approximately one wet diaper every eight hours.
As the days pass, your baby’s stomach gets stretchier. By the time your milk comes in between 48 to 72 hours after birth, your little one’s tummy can accommodate the larger volume you will be producing.
Brand new babies often go through periods of cluster feeding, where they feed very frequently. This is not just because of hunger because breastfeeding is more than just a way for a baby to get food.
Cluster feeding the second night is so common that we have given it a special name, Second Night Syndrome.
The frequent stimulation from the cluster feeding helps encourage your milk to come in. It also supports building an abundant milk supply.
HOW MUCH BREASTMILK DOES A NEWBORN NEED AT EACH FEEDING?
When your milk production begins, your baby will begin eating larger amounts. By the end of the first week, the average newborn is eating one and a half to two ounces. By one month, a baby will eat between two and a half to five ounces.
HOW MUCH BREAST MILK SHOULD A ONE MONTH OLD EAT?
A baby’s weight will determine how many ounces of milk a one-month-old infant needs to eat. This will be true as she gets older as well.
Baby Feeding Chart
|24-hour Amount Needed
HOW MUCH BREAST MILK DOES AN OLDER BABY NEED?
One of the wonderful things about breastmilk is that is changes as your baby grows and gets older.
Your milk supply and how much your baby eats will plateau at one to two months.
When you first introduce solids your milk will be your baby’s primary source of nutrition. As your baby is eating more solids towards the end of his first year he will probably be drinking less of your milk.
Breastmilk continues to be an important part of your baby’s diet even after solids are introduced.
HOW TO TELL IF BABY IS EATING ENOUGH?
Breastfeeding takes a certain amount of faith that your body will provide what your baby needs. Unless you are exclusively pumping and bottle feeding, you will not know what your baby’s breast milk intake is while breastfeeding.
Many breastfeeding moms want to know how they can tell if their baby is getting enough from breastfeeding. The simplest answer is that your baby is gaining weight at or above average.
In the first three months, a baby should gain five to seven ounces per week.
From four to six months, babies should gain three to five ounces a week.
From six months to a year, babies should gain two to four ounces per week.
Being able to check your baby’s weight regularly is not always possible and usually not necessary.
While weight gain is always the definitive answer as to whether a baby is getting enough to eat, there are reassuring signs you can look for.
- In the first six to eight weeks, a baby needs to eat at least eight times every day. Some babies will need to eat more frequently.
- Look for six to eight wet diapers each day.
- For the first six to eight weeks, expect four to five dirty diapers of moderate quality every day. A bowel movement needs to be at least the size of a quarter to count.
- As your baby drinks you should hear a lot of swallowing.
- Your baby should be content after most feedings for one to two hours. However, periods of cluster feeding are normal.
SHOULD I BUY A SCALE TO WEIGHT MY BABY?
Most parents do not need a scale. Your baby will be weighed when she sees her doctor for well-child check-ups. They will usually check a weight if your baby is seen for sick visits as well.
In the first two months, it is best to weigh your baby naked. If weight gain has been average, you can leave a clean diaper on after two months.
Some mothers find it reassuring to weigh their baby more often. Breastfeeding or new mom support groups often have a scale so you can weigh your baby.
I generally don’t recommend parents purchase a scale unless they have been advised to keep a close eye on their baby’s weight and they are unable to access a scale easily and inexpensively.
Very inexpensive scales may not be very accurate.
If you decide that you want the reassurance of having a scale, the Health o Meter Grow With Me 2 in 1 Baby To Toddler Scale is an excellent choice.
Please note that these types of scales are not reliable for determining how much your baby is eating at each feeding.
It is highly rated on Amazon with a 4.5 Star rating from over 3200 reviews.
HOW MUCH BREAST MILK TO BOTTLE FEED?
If you have had a recent visit with a lactation consultant you may have an idea how much your little one eats from your breast. If you haven’t had the opportunity to do weights before and after feeding to figure out breastmilk intake you can just use general guidelines based on age and weight.
Use your baby’s weight to estimate how many ounces of milk per day your baby needs. Divide that number by the average number of times that your baby typically nurses to figure out how many ounces to put in the bottle.
Starting with two to three ounces will be appropriate for most babies. Do a paced feeding if age-appropriate. Watch for signs that your baby is satisfied. Let your baby decide when she has had enough. Avoid encouraging your baby to finish the bottle if she indicates she is full.
When deciding how much breast milk to put in a bottle, you want to make sure you offer enough but don’t have to waste any of your precious breast milk.
Traditionally moms are instructed to freeze their breast milk in two to four-ounce bottles or bags. I have a different recommendation.
I encourage you to use Milkies Milk Trays. This allows you to freeze your milk in one-ounce tubes. You can thaw the amount that you expect to need.
The size and shape of the tubes make them easy to defrost. If two ounces were thawed and baby still looks hungry, it is easy and quick to defrost another ounce. You could even break a tube in half if you only wanted half an ounce.
CAN A BABY EAT TOO MUCH?
A baby can eat too much either while breastfeeding or from a bottle. That said, it is best to let your infant self-regulate while at the breast.
What Happens If Baby Is Overfed?
If a baby is overfed, they may spit up, or they may just feel uncomfortable until the milk moves through to the small intestine.
Overfeeding can also result in a very cranky baby for a period of time.
MYTHS ABOUT HOW MUCH MILK A BABY NEEDS
Myth #1 – You can’t overfeed a baby.
I worked with a family whose pediatrician told them a baby can’t overeat because they will just spit it up if it is too much. There are two things that are wrong with this statement.
First of all, it’s not true. The milk may just get pushed through the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. It may not get adequately digested if this happens.
There is another thing that is wrong with saying a baby can’t overeat because they will just spit it up. Overeating results in discomfort. Spitting up can be an unpleasant experience for some babies. Why would any parent want to do that to their baby?
Some parents have told me that they overfeed their baby before bedtime because then their baby sleeps longer. Again, I have to wonder why that sounds like a good idea.
It’s important to let your baby stop eating when they are satisfied. Regularly overfeeding them can make the baby think that overfull feeling is the way they are supposed to feel. That can result in a typical feeding amount no longer satisfies them.
I have a confession to make.
Way back in the day, when I was a nurse’s aide, I was sent to the Newborn Nursery to help out. I was in Nursing School but hadn’t done my OB rotation yet. And I was clueless about how much a newborn needs to eat.
I was told to give a formula feeding baby a bottle. Back then, the newborn bottles were four ounces. That little guy chugged down the entire bottle.
When I told the nurse in charge, I could tell by her expression that she had concerns about the amount. ” They don’t usually eat that much.”
Shortly afterward, the baby had a very large spit-up. I felt awful. I felt really terrible when I learned what a newborn’s stomach size is.
Myth #2 – If you offer a baby a bottle after breastfeeding, they won’t take anything if they got enough from nursing.
Babies like to suck, and it is possible they would suck from a bottle even if they were satisfied from breastfeeding.
Every age group is capable of eating past the point where they feel comfortably full. Babies are no different.
Myth #3 – If a baby takes milk from a bottle after breastfeeding it means they weren’t satisfied from the breastfeeding session.
This is a variation of Myth #2 and not true for the same reasons.
Myth #4 – If a baby show signs of hunger but is satisfied with a pacifier they aren’t really hungry.
This is not true. A baby may be content sucking on a pacifier even when he is truly hungry.
Pacifiers should not be used to delay feedings as this can interfere with breastfeeding and weight gain.
SIGNS YOU ARE OVERFEEDING YOUR BABY
- Frequent large spit-ups. Overeating is the most common reason a baby spits up.
- Reflux can cause a lot of spitting up. Reflux causes discomfort, so it is even more important not to overfeed a baby who suffers from reflux.
- Your baby is often fussy and gassy after feedings.
- Your baby gains much more weight than average.
- Feeding more than 5 ounces at a time. The majority of breastfed babies are satisfied with 4-5 ounces of breast milk even when they are several months old. The exception is going to be the baby who is repeatedly overfed.
- Feeding smaller amounts but feedings are very close together.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HOW MUCH BREAST MILK DOES A BABY NEED?
It can be helpful to know how much breast milk a baby needs. However, there are reassuring signs that your breastfed baby is eating enough. When you see those signs, and when your baby gains weight, you should be reassured that breastfeeding provides your baby with what he needs.