When you’re exclusively pumping for your baby – or even if you’re both nursing and bottle feeding pumped milk – it can be hard to know exactly how much your baby should be eating. How much should your baby get per feeding? How much should he or she eat in a day?
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Many people feeding pumped breast milk (including me, when I was a new, confused, and sleep-deprived exclusive pumper) refer to formula feeding guidelines for an idea of how much they should be giving their babies.
However, formula and breast milk aren’t the same – for example, breast milk is metabolized faster than formula. And because most breastfed babies are nursed, there is no way to tell how much they are taking in (short of weighing them before and after every feeding with a baby scale).
So, how to know how much breast milk should your baby be eating?
I recently did a survey of women that exclusively pumped for their babies, and one of the questions that I asked the respondents was how much milk their babies ate on a daily basis. I’ll go through these results first, and then go through the recommendations for formula fed babies to see how they compare.
What is the average milk intake per day for breastfed babies drinking from bottles?
The overall average intake for babies across the first year was 26.8 oz (792.5 ml); after one month of age, the minimum reported daily intake for was 16 oz (473 ml) and the maximum was 48 oz (1,420 ml). Below is a chart showing how the results were distributed:
Here we can see that most babies eat between 24 (710 ml) and 30 oz (887 ml).
How many ounces do breastfed babies eat at 2 months, 3 months, 4 months, etc.?
As one might expect, breast milk intake varied slightly with the baby’s age, with it averaging slightly lower in the first month of life and then increasing up to between 26 and 28 oz (770 and 828 ml) until about 10 months of age.
At this point, presumably, solids are making up a more substantial part of the baby’s diet, and the average drops down to 25 oz (740ml) at 10 months and 19.5 oz (577 ml) at 11 months.
I also looked to see if breast milk intake varied by any other factors that I had asked about in the survey, such as the age of the mother, whether the baby was a first baby or a subsequent child, and race. I didn’t find any statistically significant differences based on maternal or child characteristics, except for the age of the baby as described above.
The one relationship that I did find with regard to a baby’s intake of breast milk was the amount of milk that the mother pumped. Mothers that pumped more milk tended to feed their babies more milk.
This could be for a few different reasons. For example, mothers that switched from nursing to exclusive pumping might be closely in sync with the amount of milk that their baby needs. Additionally, women with supply on the low end of the spectrum that have babies that also don’t need as much milk might not work to bring it up as much as mothers whose babies take in more.
How does average breast milk quantity consumed compare to formula feeding guidelines?
I was curious whether or not the results that I got in survey would be similar to formula feeding guidelines, so I looked up the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Reading them is a bit confusing, as the descriptions of appropriate intake use three ranges – the age of the baby (i.e., 1-3 months), the amount of formula (i.e., 2-3 oz), and the number of feedings (i.e., every 3-4 hours).
To simplify things, I broke the guidelines down into the below table:
Here we can see that the total daily recommended intake is fairly close to the averages reported above for babies by age. The recommendation is slightly lower in the beginning, but on par with actual totals for breastfed babies by six months.
The guidelines specifically state not to feed a baby more than 32 oz (946 ml) of formula per day. I’m not sure whether or not that recommendation would also apply to breast milk, but over 10% of the respondents’ babies drank more breast milk than that on a daily basis.
(Including mine! The baby that I exclusively pumped for was a really big baby who ate 40 oz of breast milk on the regular, so hopefully it’s not an issue for breast milk.)
Note: The typical feeding schedule for breastfed babies may be very different from that of formula-fed babies. It’s more common for breastfed babies to eat more often and less on schedule than formula-fed babies, likely because (as noted above) breast milk is metabolized more quickly than formula. This discussion is only about total intake.
How much breast milk should you give your baby per feeding?
This depends on baby’s age and varies quite a bit by baby, but here is a visual that might help you understand a newborn’s stomach capacity.
I didn’t include amounts per feeding in my survey, but I will share the amounts in my baby’s bottles at different ages (again, this is just my baby and yours might have different needs):
- First month (after the first week) – 2-3 ounces per feeding
- Second and third month – about 3 ounces per feeding
- Third and fourth month – 3-4 ounces per feeding
- Fifth month going forward – 4-5 ounces per feeding
So, what should you do with this information?
I get frequent questions as to how many ounces should be in a baby’s bottle at given ages.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits all answer. As you can see from the first chart, there is a huge variation in what breastfed babies will eat in a given day – your baby might be one that only needs 20 oz per day or one (like mine) who needs a lot more.
My goal with this post was to be able to give mothers a ballpark as to what is “normal” for breastfed babies to eat in a given day, and if you want, you can use this as a starting point that you can tweak based on your baby’s needs.
Ultimately, though, I would let your baby be your guide. If he finishes his bottle and still seems hungry and isn’t soothed by a pacifier or any of your other tricks, then I would go ahead and feed him more. If he’s on the other end of the spectrum and just doesn’t like to eat much, I wouldn’t push it unless there is an issue with weight gain (and then I would discuss the best approach with your pediatrician).
Note: If you’re a data geek like me and interested in more survey data, I wrote an e-book about exclusive pumping and milk supply that makes extensive use of it; you can check out here.
You also might like:
- When Pumping Takes Too Long: 11 Ways to Pump Breast Milk Faster
- What to Do If You’re Not Pumping Enough at Work
- Fudgy Oatmeal Lactation Bars
- Exclusive Pumping and Milk Supply survey, conducted 1/2015.
- Healthy Children. “Amount and Schedule of Formula Feedings.” https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Amount-and-Schedule-of-Formula-Feedings.aspx