How do I know my baby is hunger and not just fussy, has a wet diaper, or is lonely and wants to be picked up? Babies have a limited communication repertoire when they are first born. Every cue can look the same. It does get better with time as you learn your baby and your baby grows and matures. In general, young babies go through stereotypical phases of hunger cues. Some times we can miss these cues when the baby is swaddled or in a crib or bassinet away from where we are.
- Licking or smacking their lips
- Opening and closing their mouth
- Sucking on their lips, tongue, hands, fingers, or anything within reach
- Time to get your breastfeeding pillow and grab a snack and some water!
- Rooting around and attempting to latch on anything nearby their mouth
- Hitting you on the arm or chest repeatedly and/or grabbing at your clothing
- Trying to get into a nursing position
- Becoming fussy
- Breathing fast: get ready for them to start crying!
- This is the best time to latch!
- Moving their head frantically from side to side
- You’ll need to calm the baby before attempting to latch!
Many newborns are very sleepy after birth and may actually need to eat more often than they exhibit hunger cues. Newborns should be offered the breast anytime they cue hunger, which can be between 1-3 hours since the beginning of the last feeding. Watch the baby and not the clock. Don’t make the baby “wait” until some mythical hour to be fed. Feed the baby when the baby is hungry.
Hand sucking is not as reliable an indicator of hunger as baby ages. Starting at around 6-8 weeks, baby will begin to gain more control over their hands and will begin to explore their mouth and everything else in their environment with their hands. Babies also suck on their hands during teething. Symptoms of teething can sometimes occur weeks and even months before the first tooth erupts.