Every mother wants to be sure that her baby is fed and contented.
No mother would ever want her child to go hungry.
Unfortunately, our little ones can’t use words to tell us when they’re hungry.
They do have hunger cues, though, and they’re born with a special reflex. These are built-in instincts babies have, to give you signs they need nutrition.
Let’s explore each baby hunger cues a little further, and answer all of your questions.
How do I know if my baby needs feeding?
As you get to know your baby you’ll start to notice little signals that could be a sign of hunger.
As infants stir, they make little noises like stretching and squeaking, which can indicate they’re ready for feeding.
They will start rooting around with their mouths, licking and sucking with their mouths, and trying to suck on their hands or fists.
Some babies show signs they want to be fed, such as turning towards the breast or pulling at their mother’s top, or trying to suck on dad’s nose.
Do babies cry if they’re hungry?
Many parents assume crying means their baby is hungry. Crying is actually a late hunger signal, and your baby will definitely let you know he’s not happy.
When babies are crying the tongue lifts towards the roof of the mouth, which can make it difficult to attach to the nipple or bottle.
Watch closely for these signs your baby is hungry:
Early hunger cues
- Lip-smacking or licking of lips
- Opening and closing mouth
- Sucking motions on lips, tongue, hands, fingers, fists, toes, toys, or clothing.
Active hunger cues
- Rooting around on the chest of whoever is carrying him
- Trying to position for nursing, either by lying back or pulling on your clothes
- Fidgeting or squirming movements
- Hitting you on the arm or chest repeatedly
- Fussing or breathing fast.
Late hunger cues
- Moving head frantically from side to side
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has some lovely pictures that show a baby’s mouth positions at different stages of hunger cues.
What are the three types of baby cries?
There’s research that shows babies can have different cries for different reasons.
Initially, it might be hard to tell which is which, but babies usually get upset for three reasons, which we outline below.
The Dunstan Baby Language can even help you recognize certain sounds that might signal what your baby is trying to tell you.
This is known as a universal baby language, and it involves specific sounds to communicate specific needs.
As a parent, you’re the best person to tell what your baby’s crying means.
As already mentioned, it’s best to prevent your baby from getting to the state of being ‘hangry’, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable.
If babies are crying from hunger, they usually move their heads around and try to suck on anything that comes close to their tiny faces, such as their hands, or your face or nose.
For the hunger cry, the sound described by Dunstan Language is Neh.
#2: Discomfort and pain
When a baby is uncomfortable, he is usually pretty good at telling you. It could be because he’s in a wet or dirty nappy, or has wind pain.
Often pain is more obvious; he will bring his legs up towards his body, and the cry might seem more alarming and sudden.
The sound for discomfort, according to the Dunstan Language, is Heh.
When a baby needs sleep, the cries are a little more like whimpering, and he will often show other signs, such as red eyes or eyebrows, yawning, or rubbing his little eyes with his hands.
The sound for tired, as described by the Dunstan Language, is Owh.
Pay close attention to your baby and see if you can recognize the differences between cries.
Why is my newborn always hungry?
It’s completely normal for a breast milk-fed baby to latch, on average, 8-12 times in 24 hours (every 2 to 3 hours).
A formula-fed baby might feed around 6-8 times in a day (every 3 to 4 hours).
Your newborn baby’s tummy is very tiny and very efficient, especially if he’s breastfed.
A newborn is designed to eat more frequently as he’s burning energy fast, by rapidly gaining weight and developing.
Feeding on a schedule can reduce a breastfeeding mum’s milk supply, and risk affecting the baby’s growth spurts when he needs to feed more frequently.
Should I feed baby every time he wakes?
The ideal time to feed infants is after they wake and just before they become too alert. This is usually when they’re most likely to be displaying early feeding cues.
When you’re both calm and relaxed it can be much easier to latch your baby to the breast or bottle.
Leaving a feed too long after he wakes might cause him to become over hungry and overtired; this can make it more difficult to latch to the breast or take a bottle.
How do I know baby is full?
Signs your baby is full are:
- Your little one might stop nursing or feeding
- Baby turns head away when offered more, and loses interest
- Your little one might fall into a deep sleep
- Hunger signs are reduced.
Remember to keep an eye on the signs your baby is getting enough. Sometimes, reading your newborns’ early hunger cues can be confusing.
What if I’m still unsure if my baby is hungry?
If you suspect that your baby is hungry but you are unsure, there’s no harm in offering a feed, especially if you are breastfeeding.
Putting your baby to the breast not only feeds your hungry baby, but it helps your breastmilk supply, and can comfort and reassure your child.
You will not damage your child, or create any ‘bad’ or ‘needy’ habits.
When in doubt, flop it out!
How do you soothe an overtired baby?
If your baby is upset or distressed, you can calm him down with some beautiful skin-to-skin contact. Being bare-breasted in bed or in a warm bath together is great if you’re at home.
Allow baby to snuggle up to your breasts, or try wearing your baby.
When he has calmed down, feeding might be much easier.
For formula or breastmilk-fed babies, check out our article on bottle nursing.