Why Is My Baby Always Hungry?

Baby girl feeding on milk with a milk bottle.

ONOKY - Fabrice LEROUGE / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

A common concern many new parents have is that their baby always seems to be hungry. While most parents expect that their newborn will need to eat very frequently, when your baby seems to have constant hunger it can be confusing and worrying. Parents will often question whether or not their baby is actually getting enough to eat, and breastfeeding moms may begin to question if they are making enough breastmilk.

Most often your baby is just fine—remember that tiny babies have tiny stomachs, so they need to eat often. Below, we'll look at the signs your baby is truly hungry, why babies may go through periods of needing to eat more frequently, and what to do to keep them feeling full and content.

Why Your Baby Seems Hungry

If your baby seems hungry, they probably are—even if they've just recently been fed. As noted above, young babies need to eat often. Additionally, there are multiple reasons why your baby may seem extra hungry.

Growth Spurt

Babies go through multiple stages of rapid growth, called growth spurts. When they are experiencing a growth spurt, they naturally need to eat more often and for longer periods of time to fuel their rapid growth.

A key indicator that your baby is in the midst of a growth spurt is that they'll likely want to eat again soon after their last feeding. They may seem fussier than usual and/or have changed their sleeping habits, often sleeping more than normal. Growth spurts may happen in conjunction with learning new skills as well.

Cluster Feeding

Cluster feeding, also known as bunch feeding, is when your little baby feeds several times over a period of a few hours. More often than not, cluster feedings appear in the evening hours. These bunched feedings serve the purpose of ramping up the mother's milk supply, fueling your baby's growth, and filling their tummy before going to sleep. Cluster feedings are especially common during a baby's growth spurts.

A Need to Suck

Sometimes, a baby may be full but simply has a need to suck, which is also called non-nutritive sucking. Sucking is a primal, instinctual reflex babies are born with. They will suck both to feed and to comfort themselves. If you are breastfeeding, the action of sucking also activates the let-down reflex and stimulates the breasts to make more milk.

Some babies seem to have a greater need for non-nutrient sucking than others and will do this at the breast, which is perfectly healthy, as long as it isn't overtiring or causing discomfort to the mother. Another option is to let them use a pacifier. Don't, however, let them suck on an empty bottle as that can cause your baby to suck down lots of air, causing painful gas.

Fussy for Another Reason

Sometimes, a baby may be fussy due to another reason besides hunger—most often because they need a diaper change. But there are plenty of other issues that may cause a baby to fuss, too, which you might mistake for hunger. Know that while babies do get hungry a lot, they will also get agitated when they're tired, lonely, cold, too warm, bored, overstimulated, or uncomfortable. So, you can check for these other concerns first if you have just fed your baby before feeding them again.

How to Tell if Your Baby Is Hungry

If you've checked to make sure something else besides hunger isn't causing them to cry and tried different strategies to calm your baby without success, it's recommended to observe your baby for typical hunger cues. Once you know what to look for, it gets easier to feel confident about whether or not your baby wants to eat—even if they've recently just been fed. Here are some common hunger cues:

  • Your baby begins rooting as if to nurse.
  • Your baby is crying.
  • Your baby puts their hands near their mouth.
  • Your baby ramps up their fussiness, even if you are holding or attending to them.
  • Your baby sucks on their hands or clothing.
  • Your baby turns their head from side to side.

You can also check for signs that your baby is getting enough while feeding. When bottle-feeding, you'll see the milk being consumed. It's a little trickier when breastfeeding, but again, once you know the signs, you'll develop a strong sense of how much milk your baby is getting.

Firstly, watch how your baby sucks. Slow and deep punctuated by pauses for swallowing is a sign your baby is getting a good meal. You may even hear the swallowing. You should also feel your breasts emptying, ended up less full. Babies who get enough milk tend to be sleepy after a feeding. If they are fussy right after eating, that's another sign that they may not have had their fill.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby's life, advises parents to tune into hunger cues and feed their baby on demand (but at least 8 to 12 times per day) rather than using scheduled feedings once their baby is gaining weight well and the breastfeeding mom has no issues with low milk supply.

How Much Breast Milk or Formula Your Baby Needs

Your baby's feeding needs will depend on a variety of factors, including their weight, age, and if they were born full-term or premature. How much and how often they need to eat will change as they develop—and some babies will eat more and grow faster than others. However, generally speaking, newborns need to eat small amounts frequently throughout the day and night.

Formula-Fed Babies

At first, formula-fed newborns only need about 2 to 3 ounces of formula per feeding. Depending on the amount in the bottle, they may need to be fed anywhere from 8 to 10 times in 24 hours. As they grow, you'll need to add about an ounce more of formula per feeding each month. Also, note that bigger babies tend to want to consume more.

If you notice that your baby is spitting up excessively, try decreasing the length of feedings but feeding them more often. With bottle-feeding, reduce the amount of formula in the bottle but increase the number of bottles you offer in a day. With breastfeeding, simply try ending the feeding slightly earlier and add in an extra feeding or two.

Breast-Fed Babies

Until your baby has regained their birth weight, breastfed babies should feed about every two hours, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Keep in mind that cluster feeding is normal and breastfeeding more frequently is fine. If you have any concerns or questions about breastfeeding seek out lactation services, which can be very helpful—and comforting. Often, small tweaks in your technique can make feedings much easier, and having an expert to talk to can make a world of difference to smooth out any issues.

If your baby fusses frequently and seems hungry even when they are eating often, check with their doctor to make sure they are gaining weight appropriately and don’t have any other health issues.

Solid Foods

Once your baby is eating solid foods (sometime between 4 to 6 months), again it's helpful to tune into their hunger cues to determine if they're hungry or not. These cues can be subtle but are similar to newborn feeding signs. Your baby will turn their head away, lean back in their high chair, may refuse to open their mouth, or have stopped making eye contact with you (or the spoon).

Sometimes, parents assume that if a baby always seems hungry, then they are ready for solid foods—and this may be the case. So, this is fine to try if your baby is at least four months old. However, if they're younger than that, they're often not ready for solids yet, so check with your doctor before introducing any new foods.

Also, know that your baby's appetite may vary from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day. Do not bank that your baby will eat a certain amount at every breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Simply watch your baby's signs and feed them accordingly.

Wet Diaper Counts

Another key way of knowing whether your baby is getting enough breastmilk or formula is to keep track of their daily wet diapers. Depending on your baby's age, they should have a certain number of wet diapers and soiled diapers each day. If that number drops below the expected amount, it could be a sign that they are not getting enough to eat. Typically, babies go from a few wet diapers on the first few days of life to around six diapers daily after five or so days.

Additionally, note that the exact number may vary from baby to baby and from day to day—but a big change from the expected amount is potentially concerning. Check with your baby's doctor to confirm the number of wet or dirty diapers your baby should be producing if you have any questions or worries.

What to Do for a Fussy, Hungry Baby

If your baby seems hungry, feed them, even if they have eaten recently. However, if they reject the breast or bottle, don’t force it. Try something else to soothe them—and try feeding them again in a half-hour or hour.

Calming strategies don't always work every time or for every baby, so mix and match various methods to find what works best for your baby. Effective soothing techniques may include wearing your baby in a carrier or sling, holding them, giving them a bath, taking them for a walk in a stroller (or carrier), adjusting their temperature (they could be too hot or too cold), giving them fresh air, rocking them gently in a rocker, or reducing the stimulation in their environment.

If your baby still won't calm down, check for signs of illness, such as a fever or stuffy nose. Contact your doctor if suspect that your baby is sick, particularly if they have a fever.

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  1. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your Guide to Breastfeeding. Updated October 08, 2018.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. The First Month: Feeding and Nutrition. 2013.