Milky Minutes – How much milk should I put in a bottle?

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I am introducing a new feature to my blog, Milky Minutes. This will be a brief post to answer questions that many moms have about breastfeeding. It won’t be so much about challenges, or questions that require an in-depth post, but a quick answer to a common question.

Today’s topic is, what is an appropriate amount to feed my baby when bottle-feeding?

Like many answers to most questions about feeding a baby, the answer to this question is, it depends. How much does your baby weigh? How old is your baby? Is the bottle in place of a breastfeeding, or to supplement breastfeeding? If the answer is the latter, how much milk is your baby getting at your breast? Also, how often does your baby eat?

If the bottle is in place of a breastfeeding, the answer is going to be somewhere between 2 and 5 ounces. You’re probably thinking, well, that’s a huge range! That’s because of all the other variables I mentioned.

It is just as important not to overfeed, as it is to underfeed. And it is possible to overfeed. A pediatrician recently told a mom who I was working with that if a baby is overfed, he would just spit it back up. While this is the most common reason for spitting up, it is not always what happens from overfeeding. Can you overeat? Yes, we all can. With a baby, if he eats more than his little tummy can comfortably hold, it can teach him that is what it should feel like when he eats. He won’t feel satisfied unless he feels stuffed. A baby’s body can also push the food through their duodenum, and it doesn’t get the time it should have in the stomach.

A baby’s ability to continue to eat after he is full is the same reason that being able to take a bottle after breastfeeding is not an accurate way to see if he is “getting enough” when he breastfeeds.

Just because your baby can eat a ridiculous amount of milk from a bottle, doesn’t mean that he should. Think about how you feel when you eat a huge meal, like Thanksgiving dinner. You’re kind of uncomfortable for awhile, aren’t you? I know I am. Imagine if you felt like that every time you ate. That’s how your baby feels if you are overfeeding him every time you give a bottle.

A 7-8# baby, who is 6 weeks or younger, probably will eat 2.5-3 oz. As a baby gets older and larger, he will eat a little more. Most breastfed babies top out at 4-5 oz. when they get a full feeding from a bottle. This may be much less than a formula fed baby. Remember though, breastmilk changes according to a baby’s needs, as they get older. Also, breastfeeding is normal, and should be the reference point.

I hope this helps answer the original question.

As a final thought, or maybe I should call it a confession, I know from personal experience that babies, even very young ones, can overeat without spitting up. When I was a nurses aide, many, many years ago, I was sent to work in the nursery. I didn’t know anything about how much babies were supposed to eat. I was told to feed a baby who was 2 or 3 days old. I got a bottle of formula, and I fed him. He took the whole bottle. He just kept sucking the formula down until there was no more. He didn’t spit anything up either.

Back then, the ready to feed bottles of formula contained 4 oz. Four! That brand new baby ate it all. When I told the nurse, she looked at me like I’d gone crazy. “Uh, they don’t usually eat that much,” she said. Knowing what I know now, I feel terrible for that baby.  He probably had quite a tummy ache!

Here’s an illustration of how much is appropriate for new babies to eat.

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