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7 Baby hunger cues you might be missing

7 Baby hunger cues you might be missing


Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, learning how to read your baby’s hunger cues is so important. It is also likely one of the most frustrating parts of having a new baby. When your baby is born, especially if it is your first, you have all of these expectations about what it is going to be like. At least I did. I thought I knew exactly what to expect. I was a maternal child health nurse, an expert on all things mama and baby. I lived and breathed breastfeeding and bottle-feeding advice. I had been counseling moms on how to feed their baby’s and reading up on everything I could get my hands on. I had this down. And god forbid, I was not going to let a bottle touch my baby’s lips.

Cue the eye roll.

I had been working my job for six months when my first son was born. And man, was I clueless.

The Plan

If everything goes as planned, you are in the hospital room with your brand new squishy baby. There are nurses, doctors, visitors, lactation consultants, nurses aids and janitors (did I forget anyone?) coming in and out of your room checking over your baby and helping you settle in for the first few hours.

Now, hopefully, things are settling down, and you can get to the business of lovin’ up this baby. Everyone leaves the room, andBreastfeeding baby, hunger cues you (or you and your partner) are now alone with this baby. Like all by yourself alone. And that little tiny, cute and squishy baby starts to wail. Ok, you tell yourself. I got this. I know what to do. You think I am going to put this little baby on my chest and it is going to immediately calm down, and then it is going to latch on to my breast and suck and be happy. And sometimes this happens! It did with my second son.

What Really Happens

But sometimes all of those people leave the room, and then you have a wailing baby. That does. not. stop wailing. Sometimes you have that baby on your chest, and you are doing everything that you read to do and watched videos about, and the nurse showed you how to do, and you still have a wailing baby who won’t for the life of you latch onto your breast. You are desperately trying to figure out what to do. You push the call button. You have your partner help you with trying to position this baby which all of a sudden seems like it grew ten flailing arms and legs. You cry because you have a gazillion hormones rushing through your body and this is nothing like you had planned it to be like. This is how it went with my first son.   My dear, dear first son. He nearly was the end of me those first nine years (he is now nine and a half).

Now I am going to say that one of my beautiful offspring was pretty laid back and so I had a little time to read his hunger cues and get him latched on and avoid total meltdowns from all parties involved.

0-60 in .001 sec

And my other beautiful child seemed to give me about .001 seconds from his hunger cues to needing to be fed.

I am not sure I have much advice if you have a child that goes from 0-60 in .001 seconds. Except to stay calm. I wasn’t very good at that. Honestly, I am still not very good at that.

Luckily, if you have a baby that gives you cues with enough time that you can settle in to feed her, then you can likely avoid a total meltdown, at least some of the time. And if you have a baby who is more than about 6 hours old, you know that it is much easier to feed a calm baby than a screaming one.

How Often Should Your Baby Eat?

First of all, if at all possible, get out of your head the idea that your baby needs to eat (or you need to feed) your baby every two hours. If you are a type A personality, like me, you will believe this like it is law and come hell or high water you will feed that baby every two hours. Or you might have fed that baby 30 min ago and then not feed it again for another hour and a half because the baby eats every two hours, dammit. This is not the best schedule to feed your baby. At least not at first.

Think about all other mammals on earth. Do they set a timer for two hours and feed their babies every time it goes off? Of course not. Their babies eat when they are hungry. Sometimes this means they eat at half-hour intervals for three hours and then go for three hours without eating. This is NORMAL! If your baby is particularly sleepy, you might need to wake it up to feed. A good rule of thumb is to feed your baby 8-12 times (or more depending on the length and quality of the feeding) in 24 hours.

Hunger Cues

The best thing you can do for the first several weeks is to feed your baby when it is hungry.   So how do I know if said baby is hungry, you ask. What are these cues that you speak of? Well, besides the obvious frantic crying and screaming like the world is ending… If at all possible the goal is to feed your baby before you get to this point. (And if you have gotten to this point the best thing to do is try to calm the baby down a little, or the baby will just suck in all kinds of air while it eats, or it won’t latch well. It’s amazing how incredibly desperate you get when your baby is screaming!)

Early hunger cues:

  • The baby is sucking its hands, fists, finger, tongue, or anything that gets near its mouth.
  • Lip smacking or licking its lips

Later hunger cues:

  • Your baby turning its head toward your chest or looking for your breast (this is called rooting, and the baby will do this to whoever is holding him!)
  • Your baby makes sucking motion with its mouth and makes sucking sounds.
  • Your baby is starting to fuss.
  • Your baby is getting squirmy. This often comes with the fussing.
  • Your baby has flexed, rigid arms and legs.

These hunger cues are the same whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. So do your best to observe your baby’s cues and feed your baby when it is hungry. This will likely save you and your baby some (or a lot) of tears and frustration. Now, remember, every baby is different, and every mama is different. And if you are having trouble or getting frustrated or your baby isn’t gaining weight, trust your mama instincts and get more help. Check in with your baby’s provider or get help from a lactation consultant. Don’t hesitate! These people are there to help!!!


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About The Author


I’m Anne, a mama, certified lactation specialist and registered nurse, and I am so glad to be able to share my blog with you. I have been working with moms and babies for years as a maternal-child public health nurse. I created The New Mama Nurse because I want to help mamas on their personal health and wellness journey. I want you to be able to find relevant, helpful and up-to-date information so you are empowered to make informed decisions for you and your family. If you have a topic that you would like me to write about please email or comment and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.  If you want to learn more about me or this blog check out my about me page.

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