Feeding Your Newborn Baby: Expert Tips & Tricks


As a new parent, you may be wondering if it's better for your newborn to feed on a schedule or on demand. Feeding on demand is almost always recommended. Newborns eat 8-12 times in 24 hours. Studies show a baby who has complete access to feeding has a much higher chance of getting the full nutrients he/she needs, compared to a baby whose access is restricted. Your baby's caloric needs change constantly (due to growth spurts), and only your baby knows his/her needs and how often they need to be met.

Newborn babies should only be fed breast milk or formula. They should not be fed plain water, juice or other liquids. Breast milk and formula provide new babies the balance of nutrition, fluid and electrolytes that a baby needs; feeding other liquids can be dangerous. Newborns also do not need rice cereal or other solid foods. Your provider will talk to you about appropriate times to introduce other liquids and solid foods when your baby is older.

How often and how long should my baby eat during the day and night?

  • Baby should eat whenever baby acts hungry, this can include squirming, sucking on fingers, smacking lips or crying. Usually 1-3 hours from start of last feeding.
  • Wake baby to feed if baby sleeping 3 hours from last feeding in day or 4 hours at night.
  • Baby should nurse at least 8-12 times or more every 24 hours (after first 24 hours of life).
  • Nurse baby 10-15 minutes on each breast. Nurse both breasts at each feeding.
  • Baby may nurse again if baby is still hungry.
  • Babies often cluster feed at night (or day). They may want to eat every hour for 3-4 hours in a row. This is normal for the first 2-3 weeks. This helps mother build a better milk supply sooner and baby gets more milk.
  • Nap in the day when baby is sleeping.

What if my baby is too sleepy or refuses to nurse?

  • Very common in the first 24 hours of life.
  • Take baby's clothes off, change their diaper to wake. Put baby skin to skin to smell the breast.
  • For the first few days you may need to wake them to feed if they are still sleeping by 3 hours from the last day feeding and 4 hours at night.
  • If baby still won't eat, allow baby to sleep another hour and try again to wake and feed them. When you are in the hospital, call the nurses for help if baby still will not nurse.
  • If you are at home and baby still will not wake up to feed and has missed 2 feedings, pump your breasts and feed baby your pumped milk or formula with a slow flow nipple. (at home give ½ to 1.5 oz range = 15-45ml).
  • Call your baby's doctor and report this if it continues for 2 or more feedings.

What should I do if my baby refuses to latch? 

  • Offer the breast when baby first awakes, avoid diaper and clothing changes.
  • If breast is offered before the crying phase, (late stage of hunger) you will have a better chance at a successful latch.
  • Suck train before latch and if not effective give a "jump start" using expressed breast milk of ½ to 1 oz via a slow flow nipple/bottle such as a Dr. Brown's preemie nipple/bottle. Attempt latch briefly again.
  • Try brief attempts to latch ranging between 1 - 5 minutes. Trying too long may result in a "power struggle" with your baby. We do not want baby to perceive that the breast is not a "happy" place to be.
  • If your baby refuses to latch, take “time out” with baby on your chest "give baby a hug" then pump while a family member feeds your expressed breast milk.
  • Assure baby opens wide for latch to your breast. If a bottle/nipple is used to feed expressed breast milk family should encourage a “wide open mouth” response as well.
  • Try to avoid over feeding baby, give up to 2 oz then swaddle and allow baby to non-nutritive suckle on a clean finger.
  • If your baby does not settle down after 30 min. then consider offering another ½ -1 oz only. Remember, just because baby cries, does not mean it's a “hunger” cry.
  • Pump every 2-3 hours, if baby is not consistently latching and nursing for 10-15 minutes per breast, with breast softening.
  • Rest when baby rests.
  • Let family do the housework, laundry and meals.
  • Limit time spent with visitors, cell phones and iPads so you can focus on learning how to feed and care for your baby when you are awake.

What if my baby is formula-fed?

Continue to use the formula that your baby started in the hospital. If you started with nursing and are transitioning to formula, or if you believe that your baby needs a different formula, please discuss these questions with your provider. They can help you make an informed decision about which formula to use. Most babies are taking about 1-2 oz by the time or discharge, and have increased to 2-3 oz per feeding by the 2 week check-up.

If your baby is acting hungry after feedings (fussing or rooting), you can try increasing feedings by 1/2 oz at a time. Babies usually feed every 2-3 hours around the clock. If you have city water, tap water can usually be used to mix formula. If you have well water, discuss options with your provider. Formula should always be mixed according to package instructions, as diluted or concentrated formula can cause serious problems for the baby. If you are having trouble obtaining formula for your baby, please talk to your provider about programs in your area that can help.

What should I do if my baby spits up?

It is common for babies to spit up, and most of the time, this does not indicate a major problem. A common reason for spitting up is overfeeding- baby is eating more than their tummy can hold. This can happen if mom has an oversupply of breast milk, or if a baby fusses and is fed too much in an effort to soothe. Sometimes spitting up is caused by an air bubble in the tummy. Babies can be “happy spitters”; they may spit up frequently but are happy, feed well and are growing well. These babies will typically outgrow spitting up sometime in the first year of life, and need no special medical treatment.

To help with spitting up, burp your baby frequently during and after feedings. If they do not burp well after a feeding, try again in 10 or 15 minutes and you may have success. Try to keep your baby upright for 20 minutes after feeding, and try not to jostle or move them too much right after they eat. We do not recommend wedges or other positioners due to SIDS risk, but you can try putting a thin blanket or towel under a firm crib mattress to elevate the head of the bed, or elevate the legs of a bassinet.

If your baby seems to have pain with spitting up, is having very forceful vomiting, is not feeding well, or has a green color or blood in the vomit, please contact your provider for further advice.

How to help with baby gas?

Gassiness is common in babies; if it is not bothering baby, you do not need to do anything to treat it. If your baby seems fussy or uncomfortable,, try bicycling the legs or massaging baby’s tummy. A warm washcloth or bath can also soothe the tummy. If your baby is formula-fed, letting bubbles settle before feeding can help. Burping can also help by eliminating bubbles of air that travel through the gut. Gas drops are safe, but not always effective; check with your provider before trying. If gas is associated with severe pain, feeding difficulty, or abnormal stools, please discuss with your provider.