One of the most common questions I get is "How much should my baby actually be eating?" New parents are understandably concerned when their baby doesn't actually eat much solid food in those first few months after starting solid foods, or if they eat a ton! When it comes to how much your baby should eat, there are a lot of different, and confusing, guidelines out there.
A lot of the general guidelines you will find are based on the assumption that you can control how much your baby eats. If you haven't discovered it by now, that is really not something that you have control over! Or something that you should have control over.
Giving the "Right" Amount of Milk
Think about it. So much of the traditional advice for newborn babies starts with how they need to have a certain amount of breast milk or formula exactly every 2-3 hours. If they sleep longer than that, you're told to wake them up. Especially in those first few weeks.
With formula-fed babies who drink infant formula, you're instructed to closely monitor how many ounces of formula they drink. If they drink "too much milk" you're led to believe that there will be a problem down the road.
Yes, in the first year of life when they are reliant on milk, it is a good idea to be aware of how much they're drinking.
But when we're set up from the beginning to believe that we need to control how much milk they drink, it can lead us a bit astray. We start to believe that our babies can't be trusted. That your baby's growth is completely dependent on you maintaining strict control of their intake. And that is simply not true!
Instead, from the beginning it is so important to go by their signs of hunger and fullness cues. This is a part of a responsive feeding practice. Your baby's needs are determined by your baby only! Every baby will have their own needs, and the amount that they eat or drink is going to reflect that.
Get the Starting Solids: Setting the Foundation Course Today!
Learning what to feed your baby is helpful. But what about all the rest?! Learn things like how they should be positioned for eating, what you should do at meals, and how to set up an environment that fosters a positive feeding relationship-for life!
How Much Food Does Your Baby Need?
Just like with milk, the amount of food that your baby needs is going to depend!
On what, you ask?
Well, on your baby. Babies are born with their own intuition for what they need to eat. That, in and of itself, is what can be so frustrating and concerning to parents! We can't say the exact amount that normal, healthy babies need day-to-day.
Maybe one day your baby is in the middle of a growth spurt and feels the need to eat all the food offered.
The next day they might not be in a growth spurt anymore and might decide that only small amounts of finger foods at meals will suffice. Yes, even a small baby can know how much they need!
I know this can be really hard to accept. Because from a parenting standpoint, it can be much easier to just be told what to look for. What is normal, and when to talk to your baby's doctor if you aren't seeing exactly that thing.
But when it comes to how much they eat or drink, there really is no normal!
Some babies may take to new food much easier and quicker than others. Some may stick with eating small amounts of foods for awhile. And others will start eating a larger amount of foods right from that first day! Your baby's stomach, and what they need to eat, are their own. And aren't comparable to any other baby.
A Rule of Thumb for Portion Sizes
We all want some actionable takeaways, I know. And while I can't tell you how much your baby needs to eat, I can give you a place to start at the table.
When your baby is just learning to eat solid foods, provide them with 2-3 types of food on their plate at the beginning of a meal. Use my First Foods Guide to choose foods that will make a balanced meal.
You can serve a variety of foods right from the beginning of giving your baby solid foods around 6 months of age. But each type of food at a meal only needs one piece. In a case like the small pieces of raspberries above you can give a few. Have a plate to the side with some left over food available if they eat what is on their plate.
If you are feeding purees, start with just a jar.
That is the what to offer. It isn't the how much they should eat.
How Much Will My Baby Eat?
One day your baby might eat all of that, or more accurately mouth/gum all of it if you are doing baby led feeding (because at this stage it is very normal for babies not to actually ingest much!) The next day they might take just one thing and not want the rest. It is all normal!
Just keep providing this amount of food at the start of a meal for several months. It will help to not overwhelm your baby and allow them to eat as much as they feel the need for.
Approach the amount your baby is going to eat at a meal out of curiosity. Avoid having any preconceived notions.
If you look at what they're eating as a window into what is going on in their body, you can actually learn a lot. Whether they're sick, growing, or bored, it can all be discovered through their eating habits. Healthy eating patterns do not just mean one thing. Your baby's diet doesn't need to be something exact to be considered healthy and nutritious.
It is our job as parents to respect our baby's cues and their own needs, and to try our hardest not to impose our own worries and thoughts on them.
More: For more help with baby led weaning and how to help your baby succeed with eating, be sure to check out this article with a comprehensive guide to baby led weaning and first baby foods!
When to Seek Help from Your Healthcare Provider
So if there is no normal amount of food babies should eat, how do you know when to be concerned and get help?
One of our best screening tools is a growth chart that helps us know if we need to look deeper at anything based on your baby's weight and height. Just because there isn't a normal amount of food to eat, it doesn't mean that we should just ignore everything!
We do still want your baby to be having some fairly consistent weight gain. How much that weight gain should be depends on your baby, changes at different ages, and is also only one piece of the puzzle.
Some common signs to look for are things like constantly having a hungry baby even when you give them a HUGE amount of food. (Not just an amount you think is a lot for a baby. We're talking literally never ever full. This can be a piece of information in combination with their growth chart.) Or having a baby who is literally not interested in any food. Often that is more of a sign of a physical issue coming into play.
If you're concerned, it's never a bad idea to talk to your child's pediatrician. Just keep in mind that some doctors still practice the traditional approach to feeding. Responsive feeding is the method recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is the gold standard for feeding.
So even if someone advises you to push exactly a certain amount of food, keep in mind that that is not a research based, or current, recommendation.