How much should my baby eat?
When considering how much your baby should eat at each feeding, do you immediately picture an 8-ounce bottle? If so, you’re not alone. Living in a bottle-feeding culture, it’s not unusual to think that’s how much a baby should be taking.
Given that a) your breasts aren’t transparent, b) they aren’t marked off in ounces, and c) they’re actively replacing the milk as your baby is eating, there’s no easily available way to know how much your baby is getting in ounces. If you’ve had to supplement in the early days, it’s twice as hard to let go of that need-to-know how many milliliters, cubic centimeters or ounces your baby is drinking.
Babies have tiny tummier
Consider a different approach to thinking about your baby’s intake. Remember that your own stomach is about the size of your fist. Now look at your baby’s tightly clenched little hand. Tiny fist = tiny tummy.
At birth, your baby’s tummy is the size of a chickpea. Around day three, it’s the size of a walnut, and around day 10, it’s about the size of a golf ball. The golf ball is about equal to 2 ounces (60 mL) of liquid.
Think of a teaspoon
So, get rid of the baby bottle images in your mind – even those two-ounce bottles they have in the hospital nursery. Think instead of a teaspoon. In fact, in the early days, a baby will only take teaspoon-fuls of colostrum at a time – just right for that tiny tummy. (One teaspoon = 1/6 ounce = 5mL for those need-to-knowers!)
Colostrum is a human’s first superfood
Colostrum is low in fat, high in carbohydrates and protein, easy to digest, laxative, and full of antibodies to keep your newborn healthy. It provides just the right nutrition until your mature milk comes in (about 2-5 days after birth, sometimes longer if you have a cesarean birth). But it’s only needed in small quantities.
Tiny tummies need frequent refills
Remember, though, your baby will need to fill that tiny tummy often. Newborns nurse about every 1½ to 2 hours – sometimes every hour. Ten to twelve feedings or more each day is normal. Interestingly, Bergman (2013) found that a newborn’s stomach holds about 20 mL (½ ounce) in the first few days of life, and takes about 1 hour to empty. This is the biologically appropriate amount and frequency for newborn humans – and it matches perfectly with the newborn sleep cycle. He believes that “larger feeding volumes at longer intervals may therefore be stressful and the cause of spitting up, reflux and hypoglycemia.”
Another fact to note is that in the first days of life, a baby’s stomach doesn’t stretch the way ours does (think Thanksgiving dinner …). A newborn will simply spit up whatever doesn’t fit into his tiny tummy in the first day or so. By day three, it seems the tummy has an easier time expanding, which matches well with the increase in milk volume as your milk ‘comes in.’
Your body likely makes the right amount of milk for your baby
The great thing about breastfeeding is that your body will make milk in just the right amount for your baby. This will change as your milk comes in, as your baby grows, from feeding to feeding, from day to day, and from month to month.
When to seek help
The amount of milk you make is also dependent on the amount your baby is able to remove from the breast – so a good latch and position with adequate milk transfer is necessary. If you think you have low supply or you worry that your baby isn’t getting enough, consider meeting with a lactation consultant.