How can I tell if my newborn is hungry?

Published by Baby Bunting on Monday, January 28, 2019

Learning how to tell when your newborn baby is hungry is an important skill to develop. Although over time you are certain to learn an understanding of your baby's general non-verbal cues, being able to recognise the cues early will mean being able to meet your baby's needs before they get to the crying stage

Early hunger cues

  • Puckering or pursing lips
  • An opening and closing mouth
  • Smacking lips and lip licking
  • Sucking on objects, clothing, hands and toes (yes, babies are that flexible!)
  • While baby sleeps, you might notice REM (rapid eye movement)

Active hunger cues

  • Getting fidgety and squirming
  • Wiggling into position for nursing
  • Hitting at you on the arm or chest
  • Fast, shallow breathing and grizzling
  • Enacting root reflex (turning their head side to side, especially when touched on the cheek)

Late hunger cues

  • More intense side-to-side head movements
  • Crying

Still unsure?

There is no harm in offering to feed your baby. At the very worst you'll simply discover that some of those cues mean something else entirely as you soothe your baby. Before you know it, you'll be able to understand your baby's needs as though they were speaking to you.

What does excessive hand or object sucking mean?

This cue can get a bit confusing as babies get older. While it can mean that your baby is hungry, it is also a common sight when babies start to gain strength in their arms, pick up objects and in preparation for teething.

What if my newborn is sleeping?

This is an important question for newborns. Newborn babies can be very sleepy in the first few weeks after childbirth. As such, they might not tell you when they need to be fed. Until they start being more communicative with their hunger needs, newborn babies should be fed around once every 2 hours during the day and at least once at night. Soon your baby will set its own pattern, and the intervals between feeds will increase.

Try and learn the hunger cues offered by your baby before they get to the crying stage. A crying baby can be hard to feed, let alone calm down. If your baby does get to that stage – which is sometimes unavoidable – try and soothe them a little before feeding them. Holding your baby close to your chest and letting them feel warm and secure will help settle them down and make for an easier, more fulfilling feed.

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