baby hungry crying

Baby hunger cues – and why you should act before your baby cries

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How a baby shows that it’s hungry

Babies will cry when they are hungry. Everyone know that much but is that correct? Is that one of the baby hunger cues?

> Crying is pretty much the last resort for the baby to let you know he or she is very hungry and needs food right now. <

You do not have to let it come that far. There are early hunger cues that you can look out for to make sure your baby gets fed before you have a crazy crying baby that might not calm down for a while so you can actually feed.

Especially for new parents it can be hard at times to know if your baby needs food again or if something else is the issue.

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Your baby will pretty clearly give you a bunch of signs that it is hungry before it will start crying for food and if you know what to look for you can identify the baby hunger cues and act on it.

It would be amazing if you could tell by a certain cry exactly that your baby is hungry. If only it was that easy. But with these cues you will get a good idea when you should start acting to satisfy your baby’s hunger.

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Early hunger cues

These early hunger cues include:

  • sucking on finger, lips, clothes, toys …
  • rooting (that is how you call their natural reflex to look for moms breast. Within their first weeks on earth babies move their head from side to side like they are looking for something while opening the mouth)
  • Sticking their tongue out or smacking with their lips

If you stroke over your baby’s cheek it will automatically turn their head to your finger and start looking for the milk source. This is also part of the rooting reflex in newborn babies.

Active hunger cues

After the early hunger cues leave the baby unfulfilled they will start getting more “agressive” with more hints demanding their food.

  • Starting to fuss
  • Squirming around or pulling on clothes
  • Turning the head towards the chest (Again, rooting reflex)
  • Hitting your arm or chest
baby hunger cues sucking on finger

Late hunger cues

If all these hints didn’t have the wanted effect they will get very fussy, eventually throwing their head from one side to the other and as a last resort start crying for food. Hunger cries are usually very low pitched and will rise and fall.

Reacting to early hunger cues is good for the baby and you. The baby will learn that it can trust you and that his or her needs will be fulfilled. You will learn to get to know your baby better. Don’t worry if your baby will cry a lot at the beginning if you don’t see those cues. It does take practice and over time you will be doing a amazing job in picking up those hints right away.

In case your baby has cried itself in range from being hungry you will most likely not be able to feed it right away. Your baby will need to calm down first. Skin to skin contact can help with that and then offer food once the baby is relatively calm.

If you enjoy this article you may also enjoy these:

When and how to start your baby on solid food
Introducing your baby to solid food with baby led weaning (BLW)

On demand or on the clock feeding?

Moms are being told their newborn baby needs food every 3 hours. While that is correct no baby will work like a clock just like we adults aren’t hungry exactly at the same time of the day. So instead of looking on the clock making sure you don’t miss the next 3-hour mark and plan your whole day around that you can feed on demand. That means you simply feed your baby when it’s hungry. That’s it.

And it doesn’t matter if your baby is breastfed or formula fed – the time frame is the same.

To ensure feeding on demand goes smooth you should watch out for the hunger cues mentioned above.

This can feel like you are feeding your baby constantly all day long. When your baby is born the stomach is only as big as a cherry. Yes, that’s it. So your baby needs to feed often to fill up that little stomach. The stomach size slowly increases to about the size of a egg by the time your baby is one month old. The bigger the stomach the less frequent feedings will be.

To give you a better idea on how much your baby really needs to eat I made this chart of the newborn baby stomach size.

Stomach size of a newborn baby

As you can see your newborn Baby stomach is only as big as a cherry. That is about 5 – 7 ml or 0.25 oz. Over the course of a whole month it will grow up until the size of a egg which is still very small with only 80 – 150 ml or 2.5 – 5 oz.

Looking at the stomach size it is not surprising that a baby needs to eat often to fill up and since the stomach is so small it can only go for a short amount of time without more food.

This Youtube video shows you all the hunger cues pretty accurate.

So far so good and how do I know if my baby is full?

Just like the hunger cues your baby will also signal you that it had enough food and is full. One of the most obvious signs is that the baby simply lets go of your breast. If you are bottle feeding it might just let the bottle slip out of the mouth.

When your baby completely turns away from the breast or bottle it might be full too.

If you can feel your baby getting more relaxed and opening their fist it is a sign of being full too.

Once your baby is full you can let it burp and then see if you can interest the baby in feeding again. Most of the time they are done.

What if my baby sleeps longer than the three hours?

Newborn babies sleep pretty much most of the day away. So if your baby is sleeping a long time at once it might miss telling you that the little stomach needs a refill.

Especially the first few days you should definitely wake your baby every two to three hours for feeding so they can have a healthy weight gain. At night you should feed your baby at least once.

If your baby is less than a month old it is important to feed your baby still after 4-5 hours if your baby doesn’t wake on their own to eat. You can monitor the sleep and see if your baby gets restless.

Older babies do not need to be woken up to feed as long as the weight gain is healthy and they produce enough wet diapers to make sure they are not getting dehydrated.

I hope you enjoyed my post

Book recommendation for new and expecting moms:

Baby hunger cues – and why you should act before your baby cries

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7 thoughts on “Baby hunger cues – and why you should act before your baby cries”

  1. Stephanie Creel

    This is great information! Especially for first time moms who are so overwhelmed with everything new in their life. Great Blog all around!

  2. Very informative. I definitely always stroke over the baby’s cheek to see if she will turn towards my finer to find out if she’s hungry or not. It really does take time to practice and find out all the hunger cues specific to your little one.

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