How much formula is the right amount?
If you worry whether your baby isn't getting enough formula or conversely is getting too much, follow these tips from a lactation and baby nurse expert.
Getting enough formula

Whether you should follow guidelines based on average-sized babies or give your baby as much milk as they want, will depend on your baby's stage of development. You will not be able to follow the same feeding recommendations for newborns as you would for babies over the age of four months, so to help you out, here are some key differences between the development stages of babies:


You can't completely rely on a newborn baby's ability to control the amount of milk they have, as their sucking reflex will allow them to keep feeding and overfill their tummy. This risk is heightened if the flow of milk is fast, and a newborn's brain isn't able to register that they are full until they've already had far too much. For these reasons it’s not always wise to give a bottle fed newborn as much as she’s willing to take.

Minimise the risk of overfeeding a newborn by:

  • Only feed every three to four hours (timed from beginning of feed)
  • Get your GP or plunket nurse to help you calculate a set amount and only offer that much
  • Select a teat that enables your baby to feed slowly, in around 20 to 40 minutes.

From four months on

Your baby can now control their sucking as the reflex has disappeared, so he will be better able to control how much he drinks. He's also more equipped to decide if he does not want to feed or has had enough. You will be able to tell that your baby is disinterested, or has had enough, if he:

  • Stops sucking or refuses to start
  • Refuses to seal his lips around the teat
  • Pushes the teat out of his mouth with his tongue
  • Pushes the bottle away with his hands
  • Clamps his mouth shut and turns his head away from the bottle
  • Fusses and turns his head from side to side if you try to persist with the feed
  • Cries and arches back (to distance himself from the bottle) if you ignore her earlier cues and try to make her feed
  • Some babies will fall asleep when they have had enough

Your baby should now be able to self-regulate his intake to meet his needs adequately, if you let him. Parents are there to offer sufficient quantities of breastmilk or formula, but it’s the baby’s right to decide how much he will take.

Do not try to force more milk into your baby than he is willing to consume, as it will make it an unpleasant and stressful experience for both of you. Babies can also develop a behavioural feeding aversion when they are repeatedly forced to feed.

This article was written by Rowena Bennett and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
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