Babies respond and communicate with the world around them by crying. That is how they get others to recognize that they have a need that has not been met.
One of the biggest reasons babies cry is because they are hungry. However that’s not the only reason they cry.
Discomfort, sickness, soiled diapers, needing physical touch. These are also reasons your baby may be crying out.
One of parent’s biggest concerns when bringing their baby home is: How do I know if they are hungry or just fussy?
Many times if we cannot soothe a crying baby we try to feed them to meet their unknown needs. We assume that a full belly will quiet them. As parents we cannot stand to see our little ones crying out and not know how to make them feel better.
Many times even a seasoned mom can experience this doubt because each experience with a new baby is different.
Often though, this can lead to overfeeding a baby, spitting up and overextending their bellies past what they are capable of holding.
Did you know that crying as a sign of hunger is actually the last sign a baby will show? There are several subtle cues your baby will show that they are hungry before they start crying.
If you pick up on the hunger cues your baby is showing before they get a full blown crying fit you can be confident in knowing when your baby actually needs to eat!
Today we will learn the main hunger cues your baby will show to guarantee feeding success!
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I am not giving medical advice.
Information on this website is not intended to diagnose, or treat any form of any disease.
This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. I am only telling you what my experiences are.
ALWAYS refer to your own provider when making medical decisions for yourself and your baby.
BABY HUNGER CUES
Early Hunger Cues
Licking The Lips – Quiet/Alert – Turning The Head
During the first stages of hunger a baby will become alert yet quiet. Your baby may start to turn their heads from side to side.
They will slowly open their eyes and may appear to be looking around.
Then they will start to lick their lips or smack their lips.
This is one of the earliest stages of hunger and the ideal time to begin to offer a feeding. This will be the easiest time to put your baby to the breast or offer a bottle.
Related Content: How to Breastfeed Your Newborn: Quick and Easy Tips for Success.
Mid Hunger Cues
Body Movement – Stretching/Wiggling/Hands in Mouth
Your baby will start to stretch their whole body from side to side and may extend their hands above their heads. They may try to wriggle out of a swaddle if they are in one.
This may be the time your baby looks like they want to be picked up.
If their hands are free it may look like your baby is trying to “eat their hands”. They may start to suck on their fingers or try to put their fists in their mouth.
Now your baby is starting to become more hungry and you will have less time to offer a feeding before your baby becomes fussy.
Late Hunger Cues
Crying – Arching the Back – Turning Red
Your baby is now crying and fussy, they may arch their back and become red in the face. They may seem inconsolable.
At this point your baby is having a full meltdown. You will have to soothe and calm your baby down before offering them a feeding.
If you have gotten to this point, the best thing to do is put baby skin to skin or a tight swaddle. Rock and sway them back and forth to calm them down enough so they will be able to nurse or accept a bottle.
As soon as possible offer the feeding.
Signs Your Breastfed Baby is Full After a Feeding
Before a feeding your baby’s hands will be clenched into a tight fist and their body is turned towards you and curled more into themselves.
After a full feeding you will start to see your baby’s posture relax and their body will sprawl out. Then their hands start to relax and unclench.
Your baby will be calm and may even fall asleep!
Signs Your Bottle Fed Baby is Full After a Feeding
Follow the guidelines from your pediatrician as to how much formula your baby needs. Then practice paced bottle feeding.
When your baby
- slows sucking at the bottle
- push the bottle away
- turning their head away from the bottle
- not opening their mouth for the bottle after a break
You can assume your baby is full and is no longer hungry.
Baby is fed but STILL Fussy?
Things to Consider:
Cluster Feeding –
The first 24 hours following birth your baby will probably be satisfied with brief feedings and want to sleep A LOT!
However during the next 24-72 hours newborn babies do what is called “cluster feeding”.
This means they want to eat for longer periods of time very frequently. This is due to the fact that they may have not been a great feeder the first day of life and are playing catch up. Plus it is natures way of helping bring your milk in.
The more a baby is at the breast nursing, the quicker your milk will come in.
(Formula fed babies do this to but it is more likely a formula fed infant will have longer periods of contentment due to the fact they are taking in a bigger quantity of food that is metabolized more slowly.)
This phase will only last a few days in the first week and can reappear during evening hours and growth spurts.
When your baby is showing hunger cues offer the breast on demand.
If your baby does not have a deep enough latch it will be difficult for them to remove enough milk to stay satisfied.
With a shallow latch the nipple is being compressed in the front against roof of the mouth instead of the back of the mouth.
This means the baby will get very little milk, work harder for the milk, in turn causing the mom unnecessary pain and nipple damage.
Also, your baby will not be transferring enough milk to stay satisfied.
If you think your baby is not latching properly reach out to a local IBCLC or consider an online breastfeeding course.
Be Prepared: How to Feed Baby On The Go
One of the best hacks I have seen floating around for formula or moms that pump and give a bottle is heating up water BEFORE you leave the house and keeping it in an insulated cup that will keep it hot for hours!
No more begging a restaurant to heat up a cup of water for you!
These formula dispensers make it super simple to make sure each bottle is ready to go so you don’t have to think about a thing.
If you are a breastfeeding mom make sure you have a nursing cover to whip out to make nursing in public easy and simple! If that’s not your thing that’s alright! Babies don’t need to be covered to eat!
If you can identify your baby’s hunger cues early on and offer a feeding you will be more successful at satisfying their hunger.
I hope this guide will give you confidence in getting to know your new baby and how to meet their needs! Are there any other telling signs your baby gave when hungry that are not covered here? Let me know in the comments below!