Baby Hunger Cues when Breastfeeding or Bottle Feeding

Baby Hunger Cues when Breastfeeding or Bottle Feeding

  • By Tamar Paluch
  • Nov 16

Long before your baby can talk, they can communicate. Understanding your baby’s cues is a key building block of your relationship. Noticing and acting on these cues, especially the more subtle ones, encourages trust and bonding between you and your baby. Picking up on hunger cues, in particular, is a skill for life - a hungry child is an unhappy child, whether they are a newborn, a toddler, or school-aged. In this blog we will introduce you to the classic hunger cues for infants and how to distinguish them from tiredness.

Signs your baby is hungry

Hunger cues can change slightly from baby to baby but they are fairly universal. They do change with age as your baby’s ability to communicate, move and express themselves develops. As they grow, they will eat fewer times throughout the day but eat more at each feeding.

Here are some of the signs that you can expect from a newborn:

  • Rooting, puckering or licking lips, bobbing head
  • Puts hands in mouth
  • Has clenched fists
  • Looking for a bottle or breast
  • Fussy or fidgety
  • Opening and closing their mouth 
  • Crying (which is actually considered a late sign of hunger)

Here are some of the signs to expect from your 6- to 23-month-old:

  • Reaches or points to food
  • Gets excited when they see food
  • Uses hand motions or sounds to communicate their hunger

Your baby will likely latch and breastfeed better if they are ready to eat, rather than at the late stages of crying or fussing.

Signs your baby is full

Fed baby, happy baby. Babies will generally not eat more than they need. How to know if your newborn is full:

  • Closes mouth or unlatches from breast
  • Turns head away from breast or bottle
  • Relaxes hands and body

Signs your 6- to 23-month-old is full:

  • Pushes food away
  • Closes mouth when food offered
  • Turns head away

How to tell the difference between hunger and sleep cues

Parents often wonder whether their baby is hungry or tired. There are common signs between a baby being hungry or tired, but looking at the bigger picture will help you. If your baby has recently eaten, they’re most likely just tired. If you’re not sure, try to offer more food. If they refuse or your little one only eats a little, they may need sleep. If they’ve woken up crying, try to rock them back to bed. If they’re not falling asleep then you can offer them some food.

Some of the most common signs of tiredness:

  • Yawning
  • Eyes slowly closing & then springing open
  • Kicking or flailing without coordination
  • Stiff body
  • Staring into the distance

Baby hunger cues while sleeping

If your baby falls asleep while feeding you might worry that they haven’t eaten enough. If this is the case their body will likely tighten up, especially as you try to unlatch them. One thing to note is that your baby will not give up easily if they’re hungry.

Why does my baby seem hungrier than usual?

Babies go through times of rapid growth where you might notice they seem hungrier than usual. These growth spurts typically happen around 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. For breastfed babies they may spend longer at the breast. For bottle-fed babies, they may still be hungry at the end of a regular feed. Whenever your baby seems hungrier than usual it is crucial to follow their hunger cues and, if possible, feed on demand. Important developmental changes are underway and your baby needs the extra nutrition and energy (and love!).

In summary

You will learn your baby’s hunger cues quickly, and also learn to distinguish hunger and tiredness. Learning your baby’s cues is one of the foundations of your feeding journey. The Emulait bottle has been designed to fit right into this journey - it allows a more natural baby-to-breast positioning during feedings, and facilitates better eye-to-eye contact with your baby. Beyond mimicking the form and function of the breast, the bottle supports the intimacy of breastfeeding.

It is worth remembering that early feeding experiences can lay the foundations for healthy approaches to food later in life. Pay attention to your baby’s growth and consult with your healthcare provider if you are struggling with feeding and if they don’t seem to be gaining weight. Signs of dehydration include fewer wet or soiled diapers, dry lips, sunken fontanelle (the soft spots on your baby’s skull), more tired or listless than usual, and darkness around the eyes.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and does not substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provided for any medical advice, diagnoses, treatment, or health objectives.

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