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Should I bottlefeed my baby on demand, or put her on a feeding schedule?
Q: I’m a new mum (my baby is only 6 weeks old and adorable!). I’m bottle feeding my baby. I was wondering if I should feed her on demand or put her on a feeding schedule?
A: Savannah, congratulations on your adorable new baby!

People have different opinions on whether it’s preferable to feed your baby on demand, on a schedule, or mixing the two approaches. Your own approach to feeding your baby depends on your childrearing beliefs and what seems to work best for you and your baby. Babies are different—how often they get hungry, how fast and how much they eat, and how sleepy or active they are between feedings. As you get to know your baby, you’ll see what works best for your baby and you.

Initially it’s best to feed your newborn on demand, whenever she shows signs of hunger—increased alertness or activity, sucking motions or smacking sounds with her lips, moving her head around searching for you, and making fussing sounds. Don’t wait until she’s so hungry that she’s crying. Feeding your baby promptly when she’s hungry helps her stay calm and learn to trust that you’ll meet her needs.

Newborns who are bottle-fed typically take 2-3 ounces of formula per feeding and eat every three to four hours around the clock. By four weeks of age, they take approximately four ounces every four hours. By six months, they take 6-8 ounces per feeding, four to five times a day.

After the first month, many parents find they want to start adjusting their baby’s feeding schedule to help their baby sleep for a longer stretch at night, so the parents can get more rest. By feeding your baby more frequently during the day—for example, feeding her on demand, but at least every 3 hours—she is more likely to sleep at night for 4-6 hours before getting hungry. Following this more frequent daytime feeding schedule, most babies learn to sleep through the night from 3-6 months of age.

Another example of how many parents start to schedule their babies’ feeding is with feeding their baby solid food, beginning at 4-6 months of age. Most parents eventually aim for the baby’s feedings to correspond with the family’s schedule of 3 meals a day, with an additional mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack for the baby. Between 6 and 12 months of age, babies typically settle into a schedule of 2 naps per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Remember, though, your baby is unique. As your baby grows, she’ll begin to develop preferences for when she wants to eat and sleep. The most important thing is that you meet your baby’s basic needs and that she is growing and developing appropriately. Watch your baby to see that she appears satisfied after feeding, she sleeps well, and she has alert and active periods. And be sure to take your baby to her regularly scheduled doctor appointments to follow her growth and development.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician