Updated on January 27th, 2024 // by Katie Griffin
Today, let’s talk about something that’s often on the minds of new parents: figuring out if your baby is hungry. Recognizing your baby’s feeding cues is key to ensuring they are well-fed and content. Plus, I’ll share some signs that indicate your little one is thriving and getting enough to eat. Let’s learn how to read your baby’s signals!
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Table of contents
- Is My Baby Hungry?: Signs Your Baby Is Getting Enough Food
- Is My Baby Hungry?: Benefits of Responsive Feeding
- Is My Baby Hungry?: Learn Your Baby’s Feeding Cues
- Creating the Right Environment
Before babies can talk they use a variety of verbal and non-verbal actions to let us know what they want and need. We’re all too familiar with the most obvious-crying- but oftentimes they have already signaled their needs before it get to that point. Learning to recognize and respond to these more subtle clues can have a host of benefits, especially when it comes to feeding.
Is My Baby Hungry?: Signs Your Baby Is Getting Enough Food
In the early days of parenting, when you’re learning to read your baby’s feeding cues, it can be helpful to have some objective guidelines to follow. Here are some measurable indicators that your baby is thriving and getting enough food:
- Steady Weight Gain: Consistent weight gain is one of the most reliable signs. Your pediatrician will track your baby’s growth against standard growth charts at each check-up.
- Frequent Wet Diapers: On average, look for about 6 or more wet diapers a day after your newborn is five days old. This is a good sign that they’re getting enough liquid.
- Regular Bowel Movements: For breastfed babies, expect at least 3 bowel movements a day that are large and yellowish. Formula-fed babies might have fewer, but as long as they’re coming at a regular pace for your baby, it’s a good sign.
- Alert and Active Periods: A well-fed baby will have times when they are alert and active. They should also have good muscle tone and healthy skin.
- Satisfied After Feeding: After a good feed, your baby should seem relaxed and content. They might fall asleep or look calm and happy.
Is My Baby Hungry?: Benefits of Responsive Feeding
Now, let’s focus on the more subtle cues that help us answer the question, “Is my baby hungry?” Picking up on baby’s verbal and non-verbal communication style requires patience, consistent contact with baby, and an attentive eye.
Studies have shown that breastfeeding in response to a baby’s hunger cues actually supports a mother’s ability to produce milk. In one study, moms who fed their babies in response to hunger cues, rather than on a schedule, were more likely to breastfeed longer, more frequently throughout the day, and continue to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. All of these factors contribute significantly to the health and development of the baby.
Healthy Eating Habits
We all have hormones that signal when we are hungry and when we are full. If we want our children to respond to these signals as they grow, we would be wise to be responsive to their feeding cues early on. Doing so helps them learn to self-regulate; to eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. Responsive feeding has been shown to support this behavior and is associated with a decreased risk of obesity.
Is My Baby Hungry?: Learn Your Baby’s Feeding Cues
In the early days of your baby’s life, it’s important to take the time to recognize and understand your baby’s unique body language. One study found that physical contact with your baby improves your ability to recognize and respond to their feeding cues promptly. Note that the same study found that just being close to your baby without physical contact had no effect. So while you are discovering how to read your baby’s cues, holding, babywearing, and other forms of physical contact can be helpful. It is also helpful to learn some of the cues that babies generally exhibit when they are hungry and/or full.
- Putting their hands in or near their mouth
- Rooting–turning towards you, rubbing their face against you, and sucking
- Sucking on their hands, fingers, toys, etc.
- Mouthing–opening and closing their mouth, simulating sucking or eating
- Balling their fists
- Moving their arms and hands toward the middle of their body
- Reaching for food (after 6 months)
- Starting and/or stopping frequently while eating
- Unlatching often
- Spitting out or ignoring the breast or bottle
- Extending or lengthening their body, including the legs, arms, and fingers (this indicates a relaxed state)
- Pushing away from the person or object feeding them
- Decreasing their activity level and/or falling asleep
- Fidgeting or getting distracted easily
- Putting their hands to their face
- Turning their head away
- Playing with their food or surroundings
- Closing their mouth
Creating the Right Environment
You will be able to be more sensitive to your baby’s feeding cues when mealtime is a calm and enjoyable experience for both of you. Creating this kind of environment will also help your baby develop positive associations with eating. These habits and feelings can become the foundation of a healthy relationship with food as your child grows and develops.
Ideas for creating an optimal feeding environment:
- Feed your baby slowly and patiently–let their cues dictate the speed
- Encourage your child to eat but do not force them
- Minimize distractions during mealtime
- talk to your child and make eye contact while you feed him or her
- Be sensitive to the signs that your child is full and do not try to force feed
- Remain calm and be present in the moment
Remember, every baby is unique, and their feeding needs can vary. Trust your instincts, and don’t hesitate to seek advice from your pediatrician if you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding or weight gain.
Understanding the answer to “Is my baby hungry?” and responding to your baby’s hunger cues is a beautiful part of the bonding process. You’re doing a fantastic job tuning into your baby’s needs now, and laying the foundation of a positive relationship in the future. You’ve got this!
American Academy of Pediatrics (2017). Is Your Baby Hungry or Full? Responsive Feeding Explained. Retrieved at https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Is-Your-Baby-Hungry-or-Full-Responsive-Feeding-Explained.aspx
Silva, G. A., Costa, K. A., & Giugliani, E. R. (2016). Infant feeding: beyond the nutritional aspects. J Pediatr (Rio J), 92(3 Suppl 1), S2-S7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jped.2016.02.006
Hodges, E. A., Wasser, H.M., Colgan, B. K. & Bentley, M. E. (2016). Development of Feeding Cues During Infancy and Toddlerhood. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs, 41(4), 244-251. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMC.0000000000000251
Little, E. E., Legare, C. H. & Carver, L. J. (2018). Mother Infant Physical Contact Predicts Responsive Feeding among U.S. Breastfeeding Mothers. Nutrients. 10(9), 1251. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091251
NCAST Programs Infant Cues: Cue Glossary. (2014 November). Baby 101 Course: Alliance for Child Welfare Excellence, University of Washington. http://depts.washington.edu/acwewa/Baby_101/Documents/HANDOUT%20-%20NCAST%20Programs%20-%20Infant%20Cues%20-%202014-11-21%20FINAL.pdf
Klok, M. D., Jakobsdottir, S., & Drent, M. L. (2007). The role of leptin and shrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity reviews: an official joural of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 8(1), 21-34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x