Published December 6, 2023
First Year Feeding Schedule: How Much Should My Baby Eat?
There are few things more stressful for a new parent than wondering about their baby’s feeding schedule. “Is my baby eating enough?” and “Is my baby eating too much?” are common questions among first-time and veteran parents alike! Whether you need a newborn feeding schedule, 3 month old feeding schedule, 6 month old feeding schedule or beyond, we’ll cover how and when to feed your baby throughout their first year.
Baby Feeding Schedule by Age
While the total daily volume of breastmilk or infant formula stays roughly the same from 1-12 months, how often you feed your baby and how much they drink changes significantly as they grow. Let’s dive into baby feeding schedules by month and age, with a focus on the stages that impact these schedules.
Disclaimer: These schedules are simply a framework to consider and are not prescriptive. If a baby is showing signs of hunger outside of dedicated “feeding times,” please feed the baby sooner! Questions about your child’s nutrition or feeding needs should be discussed with your pediatrician.
Newborn Feeding Schedule
In a sense, the term “newborn feeding schedule” is a misnomer– newborns rarely conform to a feeding schedule at all and this is developmentally normal! The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommends that newborn babies feed on demand versus on a set schedule. This simply means feeding your baby whenever they show signs of hunger, even if little time has passed since they last ate. Feeding on demand, or responsive feeding, is important for several reasons during your baby’s first few days and weeks:
- Frequent lower-volume feedings accommodate a newborn’s small stomach size
- Frequent nursing sessions promote a strong milk supply if breastfeeding
- Frequent feedings help to ensure baby is gaining weight appropriately
While the AAP does not recommend feeding on a time-bound schedule during the first 12 weeks, many pediatricians recommend feeding at least every 3 hours during the day, and also every 3 hours throughout the night until the baby reaches their birth weight again. This means you will feed your baby at least 8 times a day, and likely more, during each 24 hour period of your baby’s first weeks.
3 Month Old Feeding Schedule
Once out of the 4th trimester, many parents are eager to establish a set feeding schedule. Given that this is also when many parents transition back to work (and infants transition to daycare or other childcare), a defined feeding schedule is a must. Like before, most infants will still want and need to eat every three hours during the day, and many will continue to wake up to eat overnight. While wake and bedtimes may vary between families, a common feeding schedule at this age is:
7:30am: Wake then milk
7:30pm: Milk then bedtime
10:30pm: Milk (often offered as a “dream feed”)
These times can be adjusted based on a baby's nap times— keeping an eye on the goal to feed every 3 hours. In order to encourage good nighttime sleep, the baby should be consuming the majority of their breastmilk or formula during the day; this is why 5 feedings occur during the period between wake-up and bedtime in the schedule above.
6 Month Old Feeding Schedule
Half-a-year-down and it’s time to start solids! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solids between 4-6 months of age so long as the baby is meeting appropriate milestones (such as the ability to hold their head up and sit correctly in a high chair). Whether you’re introducing finger foods or beginning with purees, it’s important to remember that breast milk or infant formula must remain the primary source of nutrition for your infant.
While introducing solids is important for oral motor development and exposure to textures, solids are meant to be supplementary at this stage; they are not meant to replace calories from nursing or bottle feeding. Given this, many parents follow a similar feeding schedule as they did at 3 months while adding a feeding of solids during adult meal times, such as dinner:
7:30am - Milk
10:30am - Milk
1:30pm - Milk
4:00pm - Milk
5:30pm - Solids
7:30pm - Milk
(10:30pm - Possible milk dream feed)
While additional servings of solids can be offered, parents should not feel pressured to give 3 meals a day plus snacks and bottles to their 6 month old baby! A slow transition, gradually increasing the amount of solid food and reducing the number and volume of bottles, can happen over the course of baby’s second half of the first year.
9 Month Old Feeding Schedule
By 9 months, many babies are on the move and burning more calories! You might also notice your baby having a growth spurt around this time. With the first birthday in sight, many families start to increase the volume of solid foods they offer and decrease the number of bottles, often from 5-6 bottles a day to 3 or 4. Breast milk or formula should still make up the bulk of a baby’s nutrition at this stage, with a goal of 24-32 oz each day in addition to table food at meals:
7:30am - Milk
11:30 am - Solids (lunch)
1:30pm - Milk
4:00pm - Milk
5:30pm - Solids (dinner)
7:30pm - Milk
Many infants are no longer waking to eat at night by this stage! This is also a great time to start practicing with a straw cup and offering water during meals, as the bottle-to-cup transition comes quickly after the first birthday.
1 Year Old Feeding Schedule
Happy birthday! Your newly-minted toddler is ready to make the switch from breast milk or formula as the primary source of their nutrition and calories to full-time food. With this, breast milk, cow’s milk, or a milk alternative becomes supplementary to routine meals and snacks. A good rule of thumb? If replacing a bottle with a snack or meal, ensure that snack or meal offers a similar number of calories. If baby was drinking an 8 ounce, 150 calorie bottle previously, a snack of avocado and berries or cheese and crackers could offer a similar fill. Many parents find a schedule like the one below works best, keeping the routine of a serving of milk before nap and bedtime:
7:30am - Breakfast
10:30am - Snack
12pm - Lunch
1:30pm - Milk (bottle or cup)
4:00pm - Snack
5:30pm - Dinner
7:30pm - Milk (bottle or cup)
While many parents stress that their baby won’t eat enough “real food” to consider reducing their milk intake, it’s often the opposite– toddlers often don’t begin to eat sufficient amounts of solids until their volume of milk is reduced. Roughly 16 oz of milk a day is a good benchmark for a 12 month old!
How Often Should Babies Eat?
How often a baby eats can depend on many factors, including their size at birth, how they’re feeding (bottle or breast), what they’re eating (breastmilk or formula), and their age. Many parents don’t realize that a formula fed baby and a breastfed baby can have very different eating habits as they develop during the 1st year. Let’s break it down!
A baby who is exclusively breastfed may continue to feed on demand throughout the first year, including overnight. Babies often seek the breast for reasons other than hunger, including comfort, and this can increase the number of nursing sessions in each 24 hour period. Breastfed babies should eat at least every 3 hours, but may eat more or less frequently as they age and go through growth spurts. So long as baby is growing well and gaining weight appropriately, any variation in daily or monthly nursing frequency is likely normal.
Formula Fed Babies
Babies who are exclusively formula-fed tend to eat fewer times per day and drink more in each sitting compared to those who are exclusively breastfed. This is okay! Consolidation of bottles is typical during the first year as a formula-fed baby gets older. Formula-fed babies should eat at least every 3 hours during the first several months, and may extend to 4 or 5 hours in the later months once several meals of solids are introduced. As long as baby is growing well and gaining weight appropriately, the number of bottles a day doesn’t matter much.
Combo Fed Babies
How often a combo-fed baby eats typically depends on whether they’re nursing or bottle-feeding. A bottle-fed baby tends to follow a similar pattern of bottle consolidation and larger bottle volumes as they are no matter if it’s breast milk or formula in each bottle. A combo-fed baby who gets a formula bottle here and there but primarily nurses will likely continue to nurse more frequently, similar to an exclusively breastfed baby. As long as baby is growing well and gaining weight appropriately, how often the baby nurses or bottle feeds can be variable without cause for concern.
How to Introduce a Feeding Schedule
Starting a feeding schedule can feel intimidating! Here are four tips to make this transition a bit easier for new parents:
- Pay attention to the natural rhythms of your baby’s day. Most likely, your baby has already started to prefer eating at certain times! The goal of a feeding schedule isn’t to upend what your baby is naturally doing, but rather to anticipate when your baby often gets hungry and then plan for it. A week or two before you want to implement a feeding schedule, start jotting down the times when you find yourself feeding so you can identify any existing patterns.
- Decide on a daily wake time. The old adage, “Never wake a sleeping baby”? It may not apply here! Establishing a set time for the first feeding of the day ensures that all other feedings fall into place every 3 hours until bedtime, likely 12 hours after your baby wakes for the day. Keeping that first feeding at a consistent time, even if it means waking your baby in the morning, helps the rest of the day run smoothly.
- Prioritize daytime calories, not daytime sleep. Often parents are hesitant to wake their baby from a nap if it overlaps with a scheduled feeding time. Don’t be! Establishing a pattern of baby eating during the daytime is the goal, and babies who don’t get enough calories in during the day wake more often to eat at night. While naps are important, don’t let a nap routinely cause skipped feedings.
- Stay consistent. With any new routine a parent implements, it takes time to adjust for both parent and baby! The first few days of a new feeding routine can be messy and that’s okay! With consistency over time, a feeding schedule can become an enjoyable, and predictable framework for the day. Keep that end goal in mind if you want to throw in the towel after a tough first day or two.
Feeding During Baby’s 1st YearOther than maybe changing diapers, parents spend more time on feeding than anything else during their baby’s first year. With the rate that babies grow and change, it’s no wonder parents have questions! With these sample schedules in hand, you can feel confident as you navigate the changing needs of your infant as they grow, become mobile, start eating solids, and transition away from breast milk or formula.
The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.