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Feeding a newborn can be a challenge, especially for first-time parents who may not be familiar with the signs of hunger. Babies have tiny tummies that fill up quickly, and they need to eat frequently to get the nutrition they need to grow and develop. Let’s discuss the hunger cues that your newborn may display and how to respond to them to ensure that your baby is well-fed and healthy.
Newborns have a variety of hunger cues that indicate they are ready to eat. Some of the most common hunger cues include:
When a baby is hungry, they may turn their head and open their mouth, looking for something to suck on.
Sucking on hands or fingers
This is another sign that your baby may be hungry and looking for something to suck on.
This is a late hunger cue and may indicate that your baby is very hungry and needs to eat right away.
Smacking or licking lips
This is another early hunger cue that your baby may display.
Moving arms and legs
Some babies may become more active or fidgety when they are hungry.
Responding to Hunger Cues
It’s important to respond to your baby’s hunger cues promptly to ensure that they are well-fed and comfortable. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents feed their newborns on demand, which means offering the breast or bottle whenever the baby displays hunger cues. This can be as often as every 1-3 hours, depending on the baby’s age and feeding habits.
If you are breastfeeding, it’s important to ensure that your baby is latching on properly and getting enough milk. Signs that your baby is getting enough milk include:
- Swallowing sounds: You should be able to hear your baby swallowing as they nurse.
- Softening of the breast: Your breast should feel softer after a feeding.
- Dirty diapers: Your baby should have 6-8 wet diapers and 3-4 dirty diapers per day.
If you are formula-feeding, it’s important to follow the instructions on the formula container carefully and to prepare the formula safely. Always keep a clean environment when using bottles, and make sure in the first three months, you wash and sterilize the bottles, as well as anything else going into baby’s mouth. Make sure you stay up to date with guidelines and recommendations for your water source that you are mixing with your formula.
In some cases, your baby may still seem hungry after a feeding. This could be a sign of a growth spurt, which is a time when babies need to eat more frequently to support their rapid growth and development. If you think your baby is going through a growth spurt, try offering the breast or bottle more frequently, and make sure to burp your baby regularly during and after feedings.
Feeding a newborn can be challenging, but by paying attention to your baby’s hunger cues and responding promptly, you can ensure that your baby is getting the nutrition they need to thrive. Your baby will seem unsatisfied with feedings if they’re in a growth spurt. If you are breastfeeding, read my article regarding how to increase breastmilk supply with food. If you have any concerns about your baby’s feeding habits or weight gain, be sure to consult with your pediatrician, who can provide guidance and support.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827-e841.
Ball, H. L. (2017). Breastfeeding, bed-sharing, and infant sleep. In The Science & Cultural Politics of Breastfeeding (pp. 87-109). Berghahn Books.
Gartner, L. M., Morton, J., Lawrence, R. A., Naylor, A. J., O’Hare, D., Schanler, R. J., & Eidelman, A. I