How Many Calories Does a Baby Need?

Published on November 26th, 2020

Feeding your child is about more than just filling up her tummy. Feeding time is bonding time between a baby and a parent—it’s how your child connects the happy feelings of fullness and nourishment to you! And as that important bonding is building, you’re giving her the fuel she needs for her brain and body to develop. And boy, does she need it. 

Until they’re about six months old, babies grow about half an inch to an inch every month

So how many calories should a baby eat every day to get the fuel she needs? 

A good rule of thumb is to look at your baby’s weight. Infants need to eat about 35-50 calories a day per pound of weight. If your child is 12 pounds, she’ll need between 420-600 growth-powering calories. You can also take a SneakPeek Traits Test to find out more about the specific nutritional needs of your little one. 

What determines how many calories should a baby eat daily? 

Why is the number of calories needed linked to weight? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Body size – The bigger the baby, the more calories are needed to move and keep all systems running. Calories are fuel for the body, like gas is fuel for your car. The fuel needed to power a compact car is much less than what’s needed to power a bigger car, like an SUV. 
  • Physical activity – Every movement of your baby’s body is powered by calories. Outside of growing (which is definitely a calorie-burning activity for little ones) babies’ high-calorie activities like crawling and playing will lead to needing extra calories compared to a less active toddler.
  • Age – Age and physical activity go hand-in-hand when considering the ideal calorie intake for a baby. An infant’s body spends most of its calories growing and getting used to life outside of the womb. The older a baby gets, the more he grows, and the more active he becomes. That means as your child ages,  caloric intake will need to grow to support higher levels of activity.
  • Metabolic rate – Metabolic rate is the number of calories your baby’s body needs to fulfill its basic life-sustaining functions—digesting his food, helping him breathe, and helping his brain work. But not everyone’s metabolic rate is the same. Do you have a friend who can down an entire pint of ice cream and an entire pizza (with extra cheese) without gaining a single pound of body weight? Nope, it’s not magic. It’s his metabolic rate. 

Metabolic rates can differ for each person based on age, gender, hormonal function, physical activity, and unique genetic factors. Your baby’s personal metabolic rate might affect how many calories he needs in his diet every day.

Feeding Needs for the First Year 

The 35-50 calories per pound rule is a handy one, but does that mean you need to weigh your baby every week to make sure he’s getting enough nourishment? Not at all! 

Experts recommend you only weigh your baby once a month up to the age of six months and then only every two months after that. On top of going off of your baby’s weight, you can look to your baby’s age for a clue to his calorie needs. 

As your baby gets older, physical activity, metabolic rate, and body size all increase. That means your baby’s caloric intake will increase as well. The USDA breaks the calorie needs of your baby down by age:

For boys:

  • 1-3 months – 472-572 calories per day
  • 4-6 months – 548-645 calories per day
  • 7-9 months – 668-746 calories per day
  • 10-12 months – 793-844 calories per day

For girls:

  • 1-3 months – 438-521 calories per day
  • 4-6 months – 508-593 calories per day
  • 7-9 months – 608-678 calories per day
  • 10-12 months – 717-768 calories per day

Why the difference in calories for boys and girls? (H3)

If you’re looking at this list and wondering, “Why should my little girl have less calories than a little boy?” It’s not because of snips and snails or sugar and spice.

The simple answer is weight.

According to research, boy babies are born slightly heavier than girls. And since bigger babies need more calories, little boys tend to require more calories in their diet than little girls. 

The Big 3 for Baby Feeding Needs: Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat 

Now that we’ve covered how essential your baby’s calories are, it’s important to consider where your baby’s calories are coming from. The highest sources of calories (those helping your baby maintain a healthy weight) come from three major players—carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. 

Carbohydrates 

Carbohydrates are a heavy hitter when it comes to providing energy for your baby. And your body knows it—in one cup of breastmilk, there’s about 17 grams of carbs. That’s more carbohydrates than in a slice of bread! In addition to providing energy for your baby’s growth, carbohydrates help the body turn proteins into new tissue. 

Protein 

Not only is protein an important source of calories for your child, but it’s an essential building block for her growth.  

Proteins…

  • Help build, maintain, and repair new tissue like the tissues in your baby’s eyes, skin, muscles, heart, lungs, brain, and other organs.
  • Build important hormones, antibodies, and enzymes for your baby’s development.
  • Is an essential part of your baby’s bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood cells.

Fat 

Fat is one of the highest sources of calories for your baby. In fact, fat provides about 50% of the energy your baby gets from breast milk or formula. But that fat is doing more than making your baby’s chubby limbs so adorable.

Fat… 

  • Helps your baby’s body absorb important nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Provides fatty acids that encourage healthy brain development, skin and hair growth, normal eye development, and even helps your child build up resistance to infection and disease.  

This is why it’s imperative to understand baby formula ingredients and what’s in breastmilk. Knowing the nutritional content of these essential feeding sources can help ensure your baby is getting the calories and nutrients it needs. 

How do I know if my baby is eating enough? 

We’ve answered “how many calories does a baby need?” and learned that calories are vital to your baby’s growth during this time in life. But how do you know she’s getting enough?

There are a few ways to tell. 

Keep an Eye on Growth 

Watching your baby grow is an amazing part of being a parent—and it can also help you learn if your baby is getting enough calories. 

Doctors look to three main factors to ensure your child is getting enough nourishment:

  • Head circumference – Parents always wonder what’s going on in their baby’s head. One thing’s for sure—a lot of growing! A baby’s brain and head does 80% of their growing during the first two years of a child’s life. That’s why a key indicator of proper growth is the circumference of your baby’s head. 
  • Length – Cross-referencing your baby’s age with average baby lengths can tell you if your child is getting enough out of your feeding sessions. When your baby’s body gets enough calories, it’s powered up enough to turn nutrients into bones, tissues, and muscles.

Average Length of Baby by Month

Age Boys Girls
Birth 19.69 inches 19.29 inches
3 months 24.21 inches 23.62 inches
6 months 26.77 inches 25.48 inches
9 months 28.35 inches 28.74 inches
12 months 29.92 inches 29.13 inches

Sourced from Medical News Today

Steady weight gain According to pediatricians, a baby having a healthy weight is a strong indicator of whether she’s getting enough calories. By 6 months, your child’s weight should be double her birth weight. By 12 months, that birth weight should be tripled.

Average Weight of Baby by Month

Age Boys Girls
Birth 7 lbs. 12 oz 7 lbs. 8 oz
3 months 14 lbs. 12 lbs. 14 oz
6 months 17 lbs. 8 oz 16 lbs. 2 oz
9 months 19 lbs. 18 lbs. 11 oz
12 months 21 lbs. 3 oz 19 lbs. 10 oz

Sourced from Very Well Health

Not sure what to look for? Give your child’s doctor a call. Your pediatrician will help you understand what healthy growth factors to look for specific to your baby’s age. 

Plenty of Wet Diapers 

The clearest sign your kid is eating enough? The end result of course! In the first few days after birth, your child might only wet 2 or 3 diapers. But from there, he should be wetting 6-8 cloth diapers or 5-6 disposable diapers every 24 hours plus 2-3 solid-filled diapers a day. 

Listen To Your Baby 

Even though your child might be a ways away from her first words, you might wish you could ask “Are you still hungry? Do you want more?” But chances are, your baby might be communicating with you more than you think.

Look for signs of fullness like:

  • Pulling away from the breast or bottle
  • Falling asleep during a feeding
  • Keeping her mouth closed or shaking his head when presented with the bottle or breast  

Just keep your eyes peeled—your baby might already be communicating that he’s full and content. 

Finally, keep an eye out for early signs of tummy trouble. There are some key things babies shouldn’t eat too early such as honey, peanuts, or dairy. Introducing these foods at the right time (and slowly) can help you figure out if specific foods are making them upset, and help you identify early if they are susceptible to things like baby dairy intolerance and need nutritional alternatives. 

Hungry for Information About Your Growing Baby? Try SneakPeek Traits 

Mealtimes with your child can be fun, messy, challenging, and rewarding. Every moment you spend nourishing her encourages bonding and supports long-term growth. But what if you could learn more about your child’s development and provide even more love and care to your little bundle of joy?

Take a peek into your child’s nutritional needs with SneakPeek Traits!

SneakPeek Traits can interpret your child’s genetic code and provide personalized nutrition tips and advice to help your child live her best life. This simple DNA test can be collected right from your home with an easy swab of your child’s cheek. Once the sample is collected, all you have to do is send it off to SneakPeek Labs in the included prepaid envelope. Then, 2-3 weeks after the sample arrives at our facilities, you’ll receive a treasure trove of information about your child’s amazing genetic traits.

Not only will you learn about your baby’s nutritional profile, you can also learn your baby’s… 

  • Adult height
  • Eye color
  • Sleep patterns
  • Hair color and texture 
  • And so much more!

If you’re hungry for more information about your child, look no further than SneakPeek Traits!

Sources

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. When breastfeeding, how many calories should moms and babies consume? https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/breastfeeding/conditioninfo/calories

US National Library of Medicine. Sex Differences in Nutrition, Growth, and Metabolism in Preterm Infants. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374621/

USDA. Nutritional needs for infants. In Infant Nutrition and Feeding: A Guide for Use in the WIC and FSF Programs (11–40). https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/wicworks//Topics/FG/CompleteIFG.pdf

National Health Services. Your Baby’s Weight and Height. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/baby-weight-and-height/

Grow by WebMD. Is My New Baby Eating Enough? https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/new-baby-eating-enough#1

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Feeding in the first year of life: SACN report. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/feeding-in-the-first-year-of-life-sacn-report

Parenting. Why is my baby’s head circumference regularly measured? https://www.parents.com/baby/new-parent/why-is-my-babys-head-circumference-regularly-measured/

Mayo Clinic. Infant and Toddler Health. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/infant-growth/

SneakPeek aims to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to help our readers make informed decisions regarding their health before, during, and after pregnancy. This article was written based upon trusted scientific research studies and/or articles. Credible information sources for this article are cited and hyperlinked.

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