For the first year of life, milk is the number one source of nutrition for your little one. Whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding, it is important to ensure that your baby is getting the right amount of milk for their age and needs. And you’re not alone if you have a lot of questions about milk feeds! How much milk should my little one be consuming at each feed, how often should I feed during the day, how many feeds are appropriate overnight, if on formula – which one should I use, how do I night wean and/or reduce milk in the day? Etc. In this blog post we will go through all of this to hopefully put your mind at ease and give you some direction on your feeding journey in the first year of your baby’s life.
There is no judgement over the way you have chosen or have needed to feed your baby. Whether breastfeeding, formula feeding or mixed feeding, ultimately fed is best. I support mums in whatever choices they have made! But let’s break down the following feeding options.
Breastfeeding is recommended as the primary source of nutrition for babies in the first year of life. This is because breast milk is designed to be easily digested and it contains all the nutrients that a baby needs to grow and develop, including protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Breast milk also contains antibodies that help protect your baby from infections and diseases.
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life, and then it is recommended to introduce solid foods while continuing to breastfeed until at least one year of age (or as close to that as possible). Breastfeeding on demand is essential in the early days and weeks as it helps to establish and maintain milk production.
If you are unable to breastfeed or choose not to, don’t stress Mama and definitely let go of any guilt! A fed baby is best. Infant formula is a suitable alternative. Infant formula is designed to provide all the necessary nutrients that a baby needs in the first year of life. There are many types of infant formula available depending on your preferences and your baby’s needs, including cow’s milk-based, soy-based, and hydrolysed formula.
Cow’s milk-based formula is the most commonly used and is designed to mimic the composition of breast milk. Soy-based formula is an alternative for babies who are allergic or intolerant to cow’s milk protein, however often if your little one struggles with cow’s milk protein, they will struggle with soy too. Hydrolyzed formula is recommended for babies with a family history of allergies or who are at risk of developing allergies. Goat’s milk is much easier to digest than cow’s milk, so if you suspect your little one is struggling to digest cow’s milk, see if you can get hold of a goat milk formula.
How much milk should my little one be getting?
The amount of milk a baby needs will vary depending on their age and weight. In general, a newborn will feed every two to three hours, which can amount to around eight to 12 feeds in a 24-hour period. As your baby grows, they will likely drink more milk at each feeding, but the frequency of feedings may decrease. It is important to note, however, that our little ones need time between feeds to digest the milk and bring up sufficient wind after each feed. If you are in the newborn phase, I highly recommend downloading my Optimal Winding Guide to help your little one with their digestion. Feeding too frequently (less than 2.5-3 hourly) can result in digestive overload, reflux/silent reflux and/or colic symptoms. My free guide will help you prevent this.
If your little one is formula or bottle fed, here is a formula you can use to know how much your little one needs (1):
From 1 week old to 3 months old: 150ml X kg’s (body weight) = total mls in a 24 hr period
From 3-6 months old: 120ml X kg’s (body weight) = total mls in a 24 hr period
From 6-12 months old: 90-120ml X kg’s (body weight) = total mls in a 24 hr period
Your little one should not be fed more than 1000ml as this can overload the kidneys.
For example, if your baby weighs 4.5kgs and is 6 weeks old, they will need roughly 675ml over a 24 hour period. If you are feeding your little one 3 hourly, that will look like roughly 8x 90ml feeds in 24 hours.
How frequently should my little one be feeding?
In the first couple of months, it is totally okay to feed on demand (keeping in mind digestive capacity and digestive overload). However, from around 3/4 months following a flexible feeding schedule can be quite helpful to ensure that your little one is taking full feeds during the day. If your baby is still feeding every 1-2 hours, this is considered snack feeding and can result in short naps and more wakes overnight out of genuine hunger. A nice rhythm to get into is feeding at 7am, 10/10:30am, 2pm, 5pm and then before bed. If you are following my schedules (further down you will see a sample schedule) which encourage a long midday nap, you may want to squeeze in a top up feed before this nap until your little one is established on solids (around the 6/7 month mark). This way, we can be sure your little one is taking full feeds and has a nice full tummy to settle well for naps and at bedtime.
The morning milk feed is a really important feed of the day. If your little one takes a nice full feed here, this sets them up to take full feeds the rest of the day and prevents snack feeding. If your baby is taking too much milk overnight, they will not be hungry enough for a full morning milk feed. When this happens, we need to reduce the amount of milk they are taking overnight, starting with the one closest to the morning milk feed. If you are needing help with night weaning or getting more consolidated sleep overnight, check out my Baby Sleep Guide or my Toddler Sleep Guide.
From around 4-6 months, up to 2 night feeds can be expected and is age-appropriate. From around 6 months, 1 overnight feed is still appropriate, but from 9 months, your little one should be able to sleep through without any milk feeds overnight, provided they are well established on solids, getting sufficient protein in the day, and taking full milk feeds.
After 12 weeks, excessive night feeds can result in disrupted night sleep as your baby has to work really hard to digest all that milk while sleeping. When they consume milk, they produce insulin, and insulin blocks the production of melatonin. This, therefore, causes them to struggle to get into a deep sleep. Excessive night feeding also results in reverse cycling, which is when your little one is taking in more calories overnight than during the day. If your baby is having more than the recommended feeds overnight and they are not interested in or are taking a small morning milk feed, it is likely time to start reducing the milk they are getting overnight. Pssst…I have a full night weaning masterclass and step-by-step night weaning guide in my Baby and Toddler Sleep Guides.
Here is a sample schedule for feeds and naps BEFORE solids are introduced for a 4 month old:
7am wake up and full milk feed
10am wake up and full milk feed
12pm nap (can do a top up feed before this nap)
2/2:30pm wake up and full milk feed
5pm awake and half milk feed
6:30pm half milk feed after bath
7pm bed asleep
As you can see above, there are 4 full milk feeds during the day. At 4 months we can expect 1-2 night feeds still bringing it to, on average, 5-6 milk feeds in a 24 hour period. If your little one is doing more than this, seems happy and you’re ok with it, then that’s absolutely fine. Use this above schedule sample as a guide, but you know your baby best and what works for you might not necessarily work for the next mom.
By 8 months, and once your little one is well established on solids, they might drop down to 3 feeds in the day. From 9 months it is advised to switch to solids before milk and by 10 months a lot of little ones are ok with only 2 milk feeds in the day, one in the morning after breakfast and one before bed. Once your little one gets closer to a year old, they may only need a bedtime milk feed and after a year old, a variety of solid foods are all your little one really needs. BUT if you want to add in more feeds, that is absolutely fine. Some little ones do really well with both milk feeds and solids in the day well after a year old. If this isn’t resulting in picky eating or more wakes for milk overnight, then no need to worry.
Beyond the 1 year mark
From a year old, milk becomes secondary to solid food. While breastmilk is still really beneficial, it doesn’t meet all your toddler’s nutritional needs. Too much milk can result in a low appetite for solid foods and is a big cause for picky eating. From 9 or 10 months old, and provided your little one is getting sufficient protein in the day, your toddler won’t need any milk overnight. Milk overnight from this point is likely habitual or for comfort and can actually result in disrupted night sleep as your baby has to work really hard to digest all that milk while sleeping. When they consume milk, they produce insulin, and insulin blocks the production of melatonin. This, therefore, causes them to struggle to get into a deep sleep. Feeding overnight at this age can also result in picky eating as your little one’s appetite for solid food is decreased due to the calories they are getting overnight.
With that being said, mums choose to continue feeding their littles well over a year old both during the day and overnight. If this is a choice you have made and love it, then continue with it! I hope this was helpful for you nonetheless.
Mel (Sleep Well by Mel)