Tips on how often to feed your bottle fed baby
There is no right or wrong answer to how often you should feed your baby - only what works for you two as individuals. Some people swear by feeding at three-to-four hourly intervals, while others feed whenever their baby appears hungry.
It may be a matter of trial and error to find what suits your baby, and could also evolve and change as your baby grows.
Understanding how babies’ nutritional needs and feeding behaviour are impacted by development might help you to decide though:
From birth to around three to four months of age, babies’ body movements are mostly controlled by reflexes (reflexes are automatic, involuntary actions). This can make it difficult to pinpoint hunger based on behavioural cues alone.
Take sucking for instance. Most babies have a strong sucking urge until around five to six months of age. They often want to suck when hungry, tired, bored, uncomfortable and simply because they enjoy sucking. Just because your baby accepts a feed, does not mean they are hungry. Once a baby’s sucking reflex has been triggered she will suck from a bottle irrespective of whether she is hungry or not. This means newborns are at risk of overfeeding if parents are not careful.
Babies’ circadian rhythms (24-hour internal body clock) are still developing during the early months, and their appetite, feeding and sleeping patterns typically vary from day to day. This makes a rigid feeding routine difficult to maintain as some days your baby will want to eat sooner or later, or she may take more or less milk than others.
Most healthy bottle fed babies thrive when they are offered feeds at three to four hourly intervals. This reduces the risk of overfeeding but at the same time allows for normal fluctuations in appetite. A three to four hourly feeding regime means you are guided by both the clock and your baby’s cues. For example, if she fusses before three hours has lapsed, consider and rule out other possible reasons for her behaviour, but by all means feed her sooner once you have. If during the day she has not demanded a feed by four hours, you would offer one.
By now you have had time to get to know your baby better and may feel more confident about identifying her hunger cues and feeding based on them. Her sucking reflex has disappeared, so she can now choose to suck or not, and thus the risk of overfeeding is reduced. If you offer her a feed and she’s not hungry, she will either refuse or snack (take only a little).
Alternatively, you may find a set feeding regime works. Provided you offer your baby sufficient quantities of milk at intervals appropriate for her stage of development you may find she not only thrives but is quite content to be offered feeds at predetermined times. However, not all babies cope with a rigid feeding regime.
If your baby is not thriving or not happy to wait until ‘its time’ for her next feed or your family’s lifestyle demands more flexibility, you might find sticking to a three to four hourly feeding regime more suitable.