Today, we’re answering your top 13 most commonly asked questions on formula-feeding.
Whether you are supplementing breastfeeding with formula or exclusively formula feeding, our experts answer frequently asked questions on formula feeding to empower you to make informed feeding decisions for your baby.
1. How much formula should baby drink in a day?
Every baby is different, but it depends on baby’s age. Here are some general guidelines
- Newborn: 1.5-3 ounces per feed
- 2-month-old: 4 ounces per feed
- 4-month-old: 5-6 ounces per feed
- 6-month-old: 6-8 ounces per feed, but never more than 32 ounces in a day
- 9-month-old: 16-32 ounces per day (needs will decrease as they eat more solids)
As the American Academy of Pediatrics explains, "On average, your baby should take in about 2½ ounces of formula a day for every pound of body weight,” until they reach about 6 months of age or are consuming 32 oz. in a day. “But, continues the AAP, “[baby] probably will regulate [their] intake from day to day to meet [their] own specific needs.”
So, pay attention to baby’s unique needs, and use the numbers above as a rough guide. Also, ask your doctor about how much formula they think your baby needs.
2. How often should baby be fed formula in a given day?
This will also depend on baby’s age. Again, every baby is different, but here’s how often babies drink on average:
- Newborn: About every 2-3 hours, or about 8-12 times per day
- 2-month-old: About every 3-4 hours, or about 6-8 times per day
- 4-month-old: About every 4-5 hours, or about 5-6 times a day
- 6-month-old: 4-5 times per day, in addition to eating solids if you’ve introduced them to solids
- 9-month-old: 3-4 times per day, but the formula is supplemented by the solids they’re eating
3. How do I know if baby is getting enough formula?
The contents of your baby’s diapers will help you determine this.
At first, you should be changing at least six wet and four dirty diapers. The wet diapers should contain pale or clear urine. The dirty diapers should contain stools that are thick and tarry at first. As baby gets older, the stools should look yellower or greener. If you breastfed a baby previously, don’t be surprised if your formula-fed baby’s stools are firmer and less seedy---this is normal.
But if baby isn’t gaining enough weight, or seems excessively hungry after a feeding, baby might not be eating enough and you should contact your doctor. Orange crystals in baby’s diaper are also a reason to see your doctor, as they may be a sign of dehydration (due to underfeeding).
4. Should I feed baby formula on demand, or on a schedule?
For the first few months of baby’s life, feed baby on demand, or whenever they show signs that they are hungry. At age 3-4 months, baby’s feeding requests may start to follow a pattern, and around 6 months, this pattern will probably become more clear. At that point, you can start to follow a rough formula feeding schedule. But always base the schedule on baby’s needs and preferences rather than your own, and be flexible.
Check out our other article for the full details on setting a formula feeding schedule.
5. How do I know when baby is hungry?
Signs that your baby is hungry may include:
- Opening the mouth
- Making sucking motions
- Rooting (moving the mouth in the direction of something that strokes the cheek)
- Bringing the hand to the mouth
- Moving the head from side to side
- Sticking out the tongue
- Smacking the lips
6. Why does baby want more formula than usual?
Baby may simply need more at each feeding because they’re growing, but usually, this will mean that they’ll go longer between feedings.
If baby seems to want more formula more frequently, though, they might be going through a growth spurt. The exact timing of growth spurts varies from baby to baby, but here are the common times for growth spurts:
- 7-14 days old
- Somewhere between 3-6 weeks old
- 4 months old
- 6 months old
7. How do I know when baby is full?
Look for these signs of fullness:
- Baby turns their head away from the bottle
- Baby closes their mouth
- Baby relaxes their hands
- Baby no longer seems interested in sucking
- Baby is easily distracted during a feeding
- Baby starts to fall asleep
8. What is the maximum amount of formula baby should consume, to prevent overfeeding?
According to the AAP and CDC, you should never feed your baby more than 32 ounces total in 24 hours. If you feed baby more than this maximum amount, you’re likely overfeeding them. Talk to your doctor if baby wants more formula than this per day. If baby is over 6 months of age, wanting more than 32 ounces per day may be a sign that they’re ready for solids.
9. If baby doesn’t finish a formula bottle, what should I do?
As we stated above, you should never force baby to finish a bottle when they seem full. You may be upset that formula is going to waste, but saving the partial bottle usually isn’t an option either. This is because bacteria can grow in a used, partially-filled formula bottle over time if your baby’s saliva gets in. And this will make the bottle unsafe for baby to drink.
Follow this rule: If baby starts a bottle, they’ll need to finish drinking in one hour for the milk in the bottle to still be safe. After one hour, pour any leftover formula down the drain to stop bacteria growth. (An untouched formula bottle, though, is safe to store in the fridge for 24 hours after mixing.)
10. What’s the best type of bottle to use for formula?
Look for bottles with the following features:
- A slow-flow nipple to reduce the chances that baby will overfeed
- Valves to reduce air buildup and help prevent colic and gassiness
Beyond this, you can choose any bottle that works well for your and your baby’s needs. You’ll probably want to start with a smaller (4 ounce) bottle, then switch to a bigger (8 ounce) bottle as baby needs more formula in a single feeding.
11. Is it normal for baby to spit up after feeding?
Spitting up after a feeding is normal. It may be because baby burps, coughs, cries, or has eaten a bit too much. Even if baby spits up after every feeding, this shouldn’t be a concern if baby is happy, doesn’t seem troubled by the spitting, and is growing normally.
But if baby is crying or otherwise distressed after a feeding, or their vomiting looks forceful, baby will need attention as they may have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Half of GERD cases are due to milk allergy or intolerance.
Learn more about the difference between reflux v. spitting up, and ways to ease spitting up.
12. What if my baby is fussy after a feeding?
Babies may be fussy because of gas, the type of bottle they use, a food intolerance or a totally unrelated reason.
Try these tips to soothe your baby during and after a feeding:
- Burp them more often while feeding
- Put them in a swing to soothe them after a feeding
- Put a warm (not hot) towel on their stomach
- Hold baby upright
- Try sitting in a rocking chair, walking while holding baby, or another different position after feeding
- Take baby for a car ride (the vibration and movement may soothe baby)
- Rub baby’s back while they lie belly-down across your lap
- Play soothing music
- Turn on a white noise machine
- Run the dishwasher or dryer near baby, as another source of white noise
But if baby’s crying seems excessive, usually appears for no discernible reason, and you can’t do anything to ease it, they may have colic. Read more about colic here.
13. Is it ok to “prop” a bottle?
No. Never prop a bottle (never position a bottle with a pillow or blanket for baby to drink, without you holding it).
Also, never leave baby unattended while bottle-feeding for any reason. Propping a bottle is a choking hazard. It can also cause tooth decay and ear infections from formula pooling in baby’s mouth.
In addition, never put baby to sleep with a bottle, as this can cause the same problems as bottle propping would.
Always hold your baby when you bottle-feed them.
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