Feeding babies can stress out new moms! They always have questions like, ‘Is my baby hungry?’, ‘How often should I feed him?’ and so on. The best one to answer all these questions is your little one! Yes, do not be surprised! Your little prince lets you know whether he is hungry or content through many cues. Even, infants can regulate their energy intake and send subtle cues.
Instead of calculating the time spent on feeding or the quantity fed, feed your baby when he is hungry. Pay attention to your baby’s behavior and his simple cues. Wondering how to identify those signals? Read our post at MomJunction to learn about typical baby hunger cues.
Different Baby Hunger Cues
Most parents think that crying is a hunger signal. But it is a late hunger cue. The baby shows many more cues early on. If you can pick those early hunger cues (1), it will be easier for you to feed the little one.
Early Hunger Cues
- Licking lips or smacking is the first sign of hunger.
- Sucking on hands, lips, toes, clothes, toys and fingers.
- Opening and closing the mouth.
- Sticking the tongue out.
- Moving the head from side to side as if he is looking for something. This movement is called rooting reflex. During the first weeks of birth, when you stroke the baby’s cheek, he turns toward the breast or bottle, as a natural reflex. He makes sucking motions with the mouth. Rooting turns into a voluntary action after the babies turn four months old.
Active Hunger Cues
- Trying to get into feeding position by pulling on your clothes.
- Turning the head towards the chest of the one carrying the baby.
- Increased leg and arm movement.
- Breathing fast or fussing.
- Squirming or fidgeting.
- Waking up from sleep and falling asleep again in quick successions.
- Displaying discomfort, making whining sounds, and grunts.
- Hitting on your chest or arm constantly.
- Rapid eye movement while sleeping. It is a good time to feed a sleepy newborn if he has not fed in a while.
- A hungry baby may continue showing interest in sucking even after finishing the first bottle or first breast. It indicates that the little one wants more.
- Babies older than four months may even smile while breastfeeding, indicating their interest in continuing.
Late Hunger Cues
- Moving the head frantically from one side to the another.
- Crying is the last sign. A hunger cry is usually low-pitched, short, and rises and falls.
Calm down the crying baby before feeding. Offer skin-to-skin contact, wear him or allow him to snuggle up to your breasts.
Relying on cry to feed a baby can cause feeding problems, besides stressing him as well as you.
In her book Sleeping Like A Baby, International Board Certified lactation consultant Pinky McKay says, “Notice where your baby’s tongue is when she is yelling — a baby can’t latch on to feed when her tongue is up against the roof of her mouth, and if you do manage to calm her enough to latch on and feed, her suck is likely to be disorganized, or she may be exhausted from crying and only take a small feed before falling asleep. This, of course, means that she will probably sleep for a very short time then wake for another feed as her tiny tummy quickly empties.”
|Approximate Age||Hunger cues|
|Birth through 5 months|| |
|5 months through 6 months|| |
|5 months through 9 months|| |
|8 months through 11 months|| |
|10 months through 12 months|| |
Benefits Of Following Hunger Cues
Instead of feeding your child randomly based on time gaps, it is always good to look for the cues he gives. It will benefit you in more than one of these ways:
- Helps you get to know your baby well.
- Ensures smooth breastfeeding.
- Satisfies the little one’s hunger and thirst.
- Encourages your baby to trust you.
- Gives you confidence.
- Builds a positive feeding relationship between you and the baby.
- Keeps up the milk supply.
How To Know When Your Baby Is Full?
Once your baby is full and satisfied, he sends signs that it is done. Fullness cues include: closing lips, turning the head away from the food source, stopping or slowing down sucking (if the baby is breastfeeding), falling asleep, looking calm and relaxed, and spits out the nipple or food. A baby older than four months may start looking around and seems distracted.
Moms, try to figure out the subtle hunger cues of your little angels and ensure they are well-fed and content. It is equally important to understand fullness cues too. If the cues from the babies are neglected, they are likely to get confused about their hunger and fullness. It may lead to preferences for unhealthy diet and further, childhood obesity.
Do not worry if you miss the cues at times. It is unavoidable! Remember, each baby is different and has different ways of letting their mothers know what they want. As you get to know your little bundle of joy more, you can recognize the unique hunger cues better! Skin-to-skin contact helps you learn your baby’s feeding cues quickly.
1. Is hand sucking always a baby hunger cue?
Hand sucking need not always be a hunger cue once the baby crosses the newborn period. From around six to eight weeks, an infant begins to explore things through his hands and mouth. He gradually gets more control over his hands. Sucking on hands is also common in babies before or during teething.
2. What if I am not sure if it is a hunger cue?
If you suspect one, yet not sure about your baby’s hunger, offer him a feed. It can help both you and your baby in more than one ways:
- The little one can have a feed if he is hungry.
- If you are breastfeeding, your milk supply will increase.
- It can reassure and comfort your baby.
If your baby has regularly been nursing, yet seems fussy, check for other problems like discomfort from gas or tummy ache, etc.
3. Why does my baby show hunger cues shortly after feeding?
It is normal for babies to have feeds between short time gaps. It is called cluster feeding that is more common during the afternoon or late evening.
Babies also tend to feed more during growth spurts, which last for two to three days. Growth spurt happens at around two to three weeks, six weeks, three months and six months.
4. Should I wake my sleeping baby for nursing?
Babies are very sleepy during early days of birth. If the little one is less than four weeks old, wake him once every four hours during nights and once every two hours during the day to nurse. Practice this as long as he is gaining good weight, showing normal parameters, pooping, and peeing.
We hope you find our article helpful. How did your baby communicate with you about his hunger? Tell us in the comment section below.
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