Recognizing Baby Signs of Hunger


As a new parent, there is much to learn about caring for a newborn baby. Since babies obviously can’t talk, they make their needs known in other ways. Sometimes it might feel overwhelming, but the more time you spend with your baby, the more you will come to recognize how she communicates. You will also begin to differentiate her needs and interpret the baby signs of hunger.

Baby Feeding Cues

While each baby can behave differently, the general baby signs of hunger are as follows:

  • Puts her fingers or fist in her mouth
  • Opens mouth wide when objects touch her chin or cheeks (rooting for a nipple – this is the best time to latch baby onto the breast if breastfeeding)
  • Smacks or licks her lips
  • Wiggles her arms and legs
  • Becomes fussy and/or cries – Crying is one of the last things your baby will do to let you know she is hungry, and if she cries hard, she might be too worked up to begin feeding right away. Try to react to her earlier hunger cues first to avoid the crying phase.
  • Older babies (4+ months) will make eye contact and smile during feeding time to let you know she is happy.

Demand Feeding

While it is important to note how many ounces and how often your infant eats, it’s best to let your baby take the lead when it comes to feeding time. She will tell you when she is hungry or full by the way she behaves, which is termed “demand feeding” or “feeding-on-demand.” If you are responsive to her needs, she will learn to regulate her own intake requirements and eat because she’s hungry, not just rigidly following a schedule. When baby is full, she will stop sucking, turn her head away from the nipple, and close her lips. Don’t try to force a baby to eat. Often, infants will feel drowsy or sleep when they have a full stomach. Older babies might get a bit distracted by things going on around them and latch on and off once they are beginning to feel satisfied.

How Much and How Often?

Because breast milk digests more easily, breastfed babies need to eat more often than formula-fed babies. If your baby is breastfeeding, she should be eating every 1.5 – 3 hours. Formula-fed infants are usually ready to eat every 2-4 hours. Are you worried if your baby is getting enough to eat? As long as your baby is gaining weight, has 4-6 wet diapers daily and regular bowel movements, she is likely getting plenty to eat. If you have concerns, talk with her pediatrician.

Though she is too young to talk, your baby can communicate her needs through body language, facial expressions, or crying. Learning to recognize the baby signs of hunger will help you avoid crying spells and keep your baby feeling happy and full. It will also promote confidence in your own parenting skills and bonding with your baby as she grows.

Do you have any advice about responding to your baby’s hunger cues? Tell us in the comments!



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