Baby Feeding schedule: A Guide to the First year

Baby feeding from a bottle while dressed in a Woolino sleep sack.

Eat, sleep, poop, repeat. That’s what you can expect with a brand new baby. And eating is actually pretty crucial. Making appropriate food choices for your baby during the first year of life is very important. More growth occurs during the first year than at any other time in your child's life. It's important to feed your baby a variety of healthy foods at the proper time.

But if you’re a new parent, the importance of feeding your child may be causing you worry. How many ounces should your baby take? Should you wake a sleeping baby to eat? Why do they seem hungry all the time? When do babies start eating baby food? When can babies have cereal?...

Well, worry no longer! We’ve compiled several tips, do’s & don’ts, and schedules for you to follow along with through your baby’s first year of life. Starting good eating habits at an early stage will help set healthy eating patterns for life and ensure your child is growing and thriving.

Feeding guide for the first year — Breastfed & Formula

Before we get into specific age groups and baby feeding schedules, here are a few overall basic feeding tips to note while you’re navigating the first year with your baby. . .

Feed on demand - While the rules have changed throughout the years, it is currently recommended that newborns, even formula-fed ones, eat on demand. Breast milk and formula are designed to be the primary sources of nutrition throughout an infant’s first year of life. 

Breastfed babies feed more - While every baby is unique, one thing is pretty consistent — breastfed babies eat more frequently than bottle-fed ones. That’s because breast milk is easily digested and empties from the stomach a lot quicker than formula. 

Adjust your expectations - Based on your baby and their unique needs, feedings can change. Premature babies are likely to follow feeding patterns according to their adjusted age. If your baby has challenges like reflux or failure to thrive, you may need to work with your doctor on the appropriate feeding schedule and amount they should be eating.

Wait to introduce solids - You may be wondering, when do babies start eating baby food? Well, any food item (even the mushy jarred stuff) other than breastmilk or formula is considered solid food, and solid foods should not begin before 4 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children be introduced to foods other than breast milk or infant formula when they are about 6 months old. This is because:

  • Breast milk or formula provide your baby with all the nutrients they need
  • Your baby isn’t physically developed enough to safely swallow solid food and may choke
  • Feeding your baby solid food too early may result in increased weight gain

    If they seem hungry, feed them! - Your baby will naturally eat more frequently during growth spurts, which typically occur around 3 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months of age. Don’t be afraid to feed them again if they show more signs they’re hungry. 

    Cluster feeds - Some babies will “cluster feed,” meaning they’ll feed more frequently during certain periods and less at others. For example, your baby may cluster feed during the late afternoon and evening and then sleep longer at night (yay!). This is more common in breastfed babies than bottle fed babies. This is normal and nothing to be concerned about. Let your baby lead.

    Worried about overfeeding? - While this isn’t really possible to do with an exclusively breastfed baby, you can overfeed a baby who’s taking a bottle, especially if they’re sucking on the bottle for comfort. Follow their hunger cues, but talk to your pediatrician if you’re worried your little one may be overeating.

    Baby feeding schedule by age

    Up to 2 weeks of life

    In the first couple weeks of life, you’re dealing with a newborn and the newborn or infant feeding schedule — which is basically non-existent. This is probably the most exhausting stage when it comes to feeding, as newborns require almost constant feeding (every 2-3hrs) throughout the day and through the night to help them grow. Their biological clocks are also not developed yet, so they’re sleeping and waking on and off as well. With such tiny tummies to fill, you can expect to breastfeed 8-12 times a day, or every 3-4hrs for formula fed babies. Talk about high maintenance!

    During the first few weeks, if your baby does not wake himself up in the middle of the night to feed, your pediatrician may recommend waking him for feedings to ensure he’s getting the proper nutrients to grow.

    2 weeks to 2 months

    As your baby approaches 2 months, you can start to focus on learning your baby’s hunger cues, such as:

    • rooting around your chest or looking for a nipple
    • putting their fist in their mouth
    • smacking or licking their lips
    • fussing that can escalate quickly

      2–4 months

      Between 2 and 4 months, your child will naturally start to fall into a feeding pattern as their tummy grows and they can take in more breast milk or formula at one sitting. You’ll notice your baby's appetite will increase and he’ll become more vocal about telling you when he’s hungry. A 3-month-old baby should be eating about 4-6 ounces of milk about 6-8 times a day.

      4–6 months

      At 4 to 6 months, you can expect your baby to eat every 4 to 5 hours. If you’re wondering when to start baby food, some babies are ready to start solids between 5-6 months, but solid food shouldn’t take the place of milk as the main source of nutrients.

      Some indicators your baby is ready for solids include:

      • developing head and neck control
      • seem interested in what you’re eating, or reach for food
      • mastering the grabbing skill
      • losing the tongue-thrust mechanism that automatically pushes food out of his mouth
      • weight 13 or more pounds

      Start with small amounts of new solid foods — a teaspoon at first and slowly increase to a tablespoon.

      6–12 months

      At 6-12 months, your baby should be eating every 4 to 5 hours. A 6 month old feeding schedule will consist of about 4-8 ounces of formula or breast milk in addition to cereal and other baby foods throughout the day.

      Between 8 and 12 months, your baby will start to eat more solid food. Move from pureed baby food to ones that have more texture (for example, mashed banana, scrambled egg, or well-cooked, chopped pasta). Try mixing up his diet to include a wide variety of soft foods along with breast milk and formula. As your baby nears their first birthday, they should be eating a variety of foods and taking in about 4 ounces of solids at each meal. 

      Remember to continue to offer breast milk or formula. Even though your baby is now eating food from a spoon, the bulk of his nutrition will still come from breast milk or formula. You can think of the solids you serve as healthy supplements and a chance for your child to explore new tastes and textures.

      Start with one meal a day, then move up to two (try one in the morning and one in the evening) for the next month or so. As your baby gets older, you can work up to three solid meals a day with a snack or two in between.

      So when should you bring out a bottle (or your breast) and when should you dish out solids? There's no set rule. Some moms find that an appetizer of milk or formula is a good way to start off a meal. Other moms offer solids as a first course and milk or formula for dessert. Then there are moms who like to completely separate solids from nursing or bottle-feeding sessions.

      Experiment until you find a feeding schedule that works for you.

      Why does my baby cry after feedings?

      A crying baby is never a fun time — we feel your pain. There are several ways to weed out the culprit of your unhappy infant. If you haven’t already, the first common suggestion is to make sure you’re burping your baby adequately (even before and after feeding). This will ensure no air gets trapped in their little tummy causing gas and discomfort.

      If you’ve already been burping religiously, then you may need to investigate other known culprits. There are many factors that can cause your baby to communicate to you through crying. One of those reasons could be colic.

      Colic, in short, simply means a “crying, fussy baby that doctors can’t figure out.” While that’s not the literal definition, that’s what it boils down to. It is a baby that cries for at least three hours a day, three or more days a week, and is under 3 months old. There isn’t a known cause for colic — I know, disappointing, right!? If you’re concerned your baby may be colicky or you’re unsure, talk to your doctor or pediatrician.

      Another issue that could be causing a fussy baby after feeding is acid reflux. If you notice fussing along with excessive spit up, this condition is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In most cases, a diagnosis of infant reflux is simply based on your baby’s symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you suspect infant reflux may be the issue.

      Some babies, especially breastfed babies, may be allergic to certain food particles that their mothers are eating.  The most common offender is cow’s milk protein in the mother’s milk, but other common culprits are egg, corn, and soy. If your baby is displaying symptoms of extreme irritability after feedings and has other symptoms, such as bloody stools (poop), you should speak with your healthcare provider about getting them tested for allergies.

      When to give your baby fruits, meats and protein

      Foods like fruit, meat or other proteins should be introduced after 4 months, preferably 6 months of age to ensure proper development (all babies are different). The AAP now says it doesn’t really matter what order you introduce foods. The only rule is to stick with ONE food for 3 to 5 days before offering another. If there’s an allergic reaction (rash, diarrhea, vomiting are common first signs), you’ll know which food is causing it. Begin with dry infant cereal first, mixed as directed, followed by vegetables, fruits, and then meats.

      Solid Food Schedule:

      How, when, and what to feed a baby can be overwhelming, but the good news is, most babies are pretty good judges of when they’re hungry and when they’re full — and they’ll let you know. Just provide them the right choices and pay attention to their cues. Remember that every baby and every day is different. Feeding problems arise, and growth spurts come and go. It will take some trial and error to figure out the best feeding schedule for your baby, but as long as your little one is eating a variety of foods and growing and thriving, you can rest assured that he’s well-fed.