How often do I need to breastfeed/ formula feed my baby?
Often new mothers are unsure about how often and how many times a day they should breast or bottle feed their baby. However, there is no one answer. Each individual baby will differ in how much they need over a 24 hour period.
Typically, it is common for babies to breastfeed around 8-12 times per day. Some babies will desire less feeds and some babies will want more. The main indicator to how much your own individual baby needs will be the feeding cues they display. A healthy baby will let you know when they want to feed.
The images below were developed by the QLD Government and illustrate what feeding cues you should be looking out for:
The number of feeds your baby will require in a 24 hour period will depend on factors such as:
- Age – Newborn babies feed more often than older babies
- Rate of milk transfer
- The storage capacity of a mother’s breasts. Some women have a smaller storage volume than others (the amount of milk the breast can hold in between feeds). If the mother has a smaller storage volume, her baby may need to feed more frequently than a woman who can store larger volumes. In saying that, some babies still need to feed regularly irrespective of storage capacity
- Weather. When the weather is warmer, babies may want to feed for shorter periods of time but more frequently
- Sometimes a baby may want to feed purely so they can feel close to their mother or comforted
Feeds should be unrestricted in the newborn infant. This will ensure successful establishment of breastfeeding. It will also ensure a steady milk production.
Signs that your baby may not be receiving enough milk/ formula
A great indicator of the adequacy of feeds is weight gain and development. Growth charts are the best way to assess weight. Minor fluctuations in weight are normal but if an infant is below the 10th percentile, above the 90th percentile or crosses these percentiles, further investigation should be undertaken. The following is an approximate guide to expected weight gain:
- Birth – 3 months: 150 -200g gain per week (2)
- 3 – 6 months: 100 – 150g gain per week (2)
- 6 – 12 months: 70 – 90g gain per week (2)
Many parents understandably put a lot of emphasis on ensuring their child is receiving enough nutrition. Excess weight is seen as endearing and reassuring that they are not undernourished. Whilst it is very important that your child is not underweight, it is also important to remember that you do not want them to be greatly exceeding the 90th percentile. If they appear to be holding a lot of excess weight, this may continue further into childhood and adolescence. This can increase the risk of lifestyle related disease later down the track. It is best to try avoiding either of these extremes.
As the volume of a mother’s milk increases, a baby will normally urinate 6 or more times a day. If an infant’s urine becomes very yellow in colour or has a strong odour, this could indicate dehydration. Medical assessment should be made on the feeding frequency and milk transfer.
A healthy baby should be alert and responsive. They should have bright eyes and firm skin.
Infant bowel motions can vary quite considerably from child to child. A “normal” motion can occur anywhere from several times per day to once every several days. If the child is still being exclusively breast fed, this should not be cause for concern.
Babies who are breastfed tend to pass a runnier stool that is mustard-yellow in colour (sometimes even green or orange). This occurs because breast milk is digested more efficiently than infant formula. The loose motion should not be mistake for diarrhoea or lactose intolerance. The colour and consistency of an infant’s stool can alter from day to day.
Constipation does not usually occur prior to the introduction of solids. It can involve the following symptoms:
- Straining when passing a bowel motion
- Pain – sometimes with blood present on the nappy/ toilet paper
- Passing a bowel motion less frequently than normal. Generally this is less than 3 proper stools per week
- Hard, very large or pellet like stools
What to do?
Make sure your baby is getting enough high fibre foods and plenty of fluid. Keeping active will also help.
This is characterised by frequent, watery stools. If this occurs, you should consult your medical practitioner to avoid your child developing dehydration. Breastfeeding should be continued and an age-appropriate electrolyte solution provided as necessary.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have any questions about breastfeeding and formula feeding or childhood nutrition, make an appointment. We’ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!
- QLD Government Health: www.health.qld.gov.au
- Department of Health and Aging. Eat For Health Infant Feeding Guidelines: Information for health Workers. National Health and Medical Research Council. 2013.