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:

  • Arms and legs are moving all around
  • Awake and alert or just waking up
  • Cooing, sighing, whimpering, or making other little sounds
  • Making faces
  • Moving head from side to side
  • Putting her fingers or her fist into her mouth
  • Restless, squirming, fussing, fidgeting, or wiggling around
  • Sucking on her lips or tongue
  • Turning toward your breast while being held

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.

Signs of Hunger 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 makes more breast milk to meet your baby's demands, you'll begin to settle back down into a more regular breastfeeding routine.

When a 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.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Is your baby hungry or full? Responsive feeding explained.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture: WIC Breastfeeding Support. Baby's hunger cues.

  3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How do I breastfeed?

  4. Jaundice in newborns. Paediatr Child Health. 2007;12(5):409-20. doi:10.1093/pch/12.5.409

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.