How to Know When Your Baby Is Hungry

mother holding crying baby
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Older children can tell you when they're hungry, but newborns and infants can't. Well, at least not with words. But, babies can communicate what they need in other ways. At first, you may not notice your little one's feeding cues, but as you get to know your baby in the days and weeks after she is born, you will begin to recognize the subtle little hints that will tell you when she's hungry and ready for some breast milk.

Common Signs That Your Baby Is Hungry

Here are nine common signs to look for to let you know that your baby is hungry.

  • She's awake and alert or just waking up.
  • His arms and legs are moving all around.
  • She's putting her fingers or her fist into her mouth.
  • She's sucking on her lips or tongue.
  • He's moving his head from side to side.
  • She's turning toward your breast while you're holding her.
  • He's cooing, sighing, whimpering, or making other little sounds.
  • She's making faces.
  • He's restless, squirming, fussing, fidgeting, or wiggling around.

Is Crying a Sign of Hunger?

You may have heard others say that you'll know when your baby is hungry because she will cry. And yes, that is true, your baby will cry when she's hungry; however, crying is a late sign of hunger.

By the time your child is crying she's probably very hungry. She's most likely getting frustrated, too. At this point, it may be hard to get her to calm down. And, if the baby becomes too stressed or tense, it can be difficult to get her to latch on and breastfeed.

Crying also uses up a lot of energy so a crying baby may become tired and not breastfeed as well. You will want to do your best to offer a feeding before your child starts to cry, especially if she's awake and alert.

What to Do If There Are Still Signs of Hunger Even After Feedings

If you pay attention to your baby's feeding cues instead of putting your child on a schedule, you may find that the baby is hungry every hour or so for a few hours, and then he sleeps for a longer stretch.

When a baby wants to breastfeed many times in a short period, it's called cluster or bunch feeding. This type of feeding pattern is typical and not a cause for concern. So, whenever your baby appears hungry, offer the breast even if it's very frequently.

Hunger Cues and Growth Spurts

Babies may also show constant signs of hunger when they're going through a growth spurt. During a growth spurt, it may seem like your child wants to breastfeed all day long and is never satisfied or full.

Although it may seem like you're baby is not getting enough breast milk, growth spurts are just another normal feeding pattern that you'll experience as your newborn grows. You can just keep putting your baby to the breast very often.

The constant signs of hunger should only last a few days while all that extra breastfeeding signals your body to increase the supply of breast milk. Then, as your body make more breast milk to meet your baby's demands, you'll begin to settle back down into a more regular breastfeeding routine.

What to Do If Your Newborn Doesn't Show Signs of Hunger

If you have a sleepy newborn, you may not notice any of the common signs of hunger. It may seem like all your baby wants to do is sleep. But, the lack of obvious feeding cues doesn't mean that your child isn't hungry.

A newborn needs to breastfeed at least 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period, so be sure to wake your baby up to eat at least every 3 hours if she isn't waking up on her own. 

You can try to put your child to the breast even if it isn't easy to wake her. You'd be surprised how well some babies can breastfeed even when they're not fully awake.

When to Call the Doctor

It's time to call the doctor if your little one is too sleepy and you're having a difficult time waking her up for most of her feedings. You should also contact your child's pediatrician if your baby is showing constant signs of hunger for more than a few days.

Newborns need to breastfeed often to stay hydrated and get the nutrition they require. But, if your child is not showing signs of hunger and sleeping through feedings or she's constantly hungry for days, she may not be getting enough breast milk.

Your child's doctor can examine and weigh your baby to be sure she's healthy, gaining weight, and getting the nutrition that she needs.

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Article Sources

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  • Cadwell, Karin, Turner-Maffei, Cynthia, O'Connor, Barbara, Cadwell Blair, Anna, Arnold, Lois D.W., and Blair Elyse M. Maternal and Infant Assessment for Breastfeeding and Human Lactation A Guide for the Practitioner Second Edition. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2006.

  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.