Do You Know Your Baby’s Hunger Cues?

Hunger is a major topic for the breastfeeding family. Whether the concern is if the baby is getting enough to eat at each feeding session or if mother’s milk is enough for the baby, parents may not understand the signs of hunger in their baby. Let’s review the signs of hunger in your breastfeeding newborn and what these signs are communicating to you.

Just like you, your baby can communicate their level of hunger. Our job is to pay attention and respond in a timely manner. In my connections with families, I recommend latching the baby to the breast when the baby is licking their lips and putting their hands in their mouths. As we explore the different signs you will see why.

Wiggling – You may see this after your baby has just woken up from a nap or in the midst of the baby sitting for a period of time. In some cases, your baby may need to eliminate or it could be the early signs of hunger. This is a sign that is easy to overlook because it can appear that your baby is simply adjusting their position. When you see this, watch your baby or begin to prepare for breastfeeding. Now is the time to get to your comfortable chair or get your pillow.

Licking Their Lips – This is another sign that can be overlooked. However, it speaks to hunger directly. Think of how you feel when your mouth is dry and you are ready for a drink of water, especially after waking up in the morning or after a nap. At this point, its safe to assume your baby is ready to latch. Please note, this is at a time when babies are still relatively calm; which makes latch easier. If you have not prepared to breastfeed, now is the time. If you need to cover, make sure you have it and are ready to use it.

Breast Pads

Hands/Fingers In Mouth – Your baby may appear calm or a bit frantic; depending on their temperament. I strongly suggest putting the baby to the breast now because the next stage of hunger moves quickly. If latch is an issue for mom, she may feel like the baby does not want the breast or the latching process may become overwhelming for her if the baby becomes upset. This is the stage when helpers can remind or suggest to mom this is a good time to put the baby to the breast if mom is away from the baby or has not seen the baby put their hands or fingers in their mouth.

Rooting – The baby is actively looking for the breast by turning their head side to side and trying to get the breast into their mouth. This is when our Genius Baby shows their natural awesomeness – I Can Do This Myself Mom! Many moms feel like the baby is being ‘grown’ because the baby is using their own hands to get to the breast. This is actually a stage of early distress and elevated hunger. Latch might be more difficult during this time for a mom who is not confident in her ability to latch the baby pain-free or effectively. Take deep breaths and remember the latching techniques you have learned. For friends and family who are holding the baby, this is the time to give the baby to mom as she needs to feed her baby. 

Crying – While many use crying as the only sign of hunger, we have missed all of the above and our baby is in full distress. I strong suggest that we latch the baby to the breast before we get to this point. And that we do not use crying as a primary communication method. This is a new thought for many families; but the benefits to breastfeeding, mom’s confidence, and the baby’s overall development are worth the effort to make this change. In some cases, the baby will latch effortlessly once the breast is presented. In other cases, the baby may need to be calmed down before mom can get a pain-free and deep latch. Bring the baby into a skin-to-skin position and speak to the baby in a calm voice. After a few minutes the baby will calm and the latch can be attempted again.

As you can see, your baby can communicate with you. Knowing these hunger signs will help you be present and more empowered during your breastfeeding journey. Latching before your baby begins to cry as much as possible and breastfeeding will be more peaceful and enjoyable to you and your baby.

To learn more about hunger signs take a look at these online resources:

If you still have questions about knowing when your baby is hungry or about your breastfeeding relationship, schedule time your local lactation support person. If you do not have one, you can connect with me for an in-person or virtual connection today. Schedule by clicking HERE!

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