Babies are born knowing when they’re hungry and when they’re full, and their hunger can change from day to day or even hour to hour. By learning and listening to your baby’s hunger and fullness cues (i.e. feeding him when he’s hungry and stopping when he’s full), you can trust he will get the nutrition he needs to grow. Responding to his cues also teaches him to eat when he’s hungry—not because “it’s time”—and lets him know that you are there to keep him safe and sound.
- Bringing his hands to his face
- Rooting (looking for the nipple with his mouth)
- Making sucking motions and noises
- Sucking on his fingers or putting his fist in his mouth
- Flexing his hands, arms and/or legs
- Breathing fast
Crying is a late hunger cue, so try feeding your baby when he shows these early signs. By following these cues, you’ll discover his natural schedule.
- Turning away from your nipple or a bottle
- Starting to play, appearing easily distracted or disinterested in feeding
- Beginning to cry shortly after feeding starts
- Extending his fingers, arms and/or legs
- Slowing his sucking
- Starting to fall asleep (see section below for more details)
In the early weeks, some newborns are sleepy and need help staying awake to eat. If he’s younger than a month and hasn’t eaten in a few hours, try keeping him awake long enough to eat by:
- Undressing him
- Wiping his forehead or feet with a damp cloth
- Playing with his feet and/or hands
- Talking to him
Once your doctor has said your baby is gaining weight well, it’s OK to let your baby fall asleep before he has finished eating. It’s probably a sign he’s full. Just follow his lead on when to feed.
Until your baby can tell you what he wants, follow your instincts because you know your baby best. But remember, a crying baby isn’t always a hungry baby. Before you jump to feed him, check whether he:
- Needs a fresh diaper
- Needs a pacifier
- Is dressed appropriately (i.e. not too hot or too cold)
- Wants to be swaddled
- Is sleepy
- Is uncomfortable (e.g., has gas, is feverish or is ill)
If none of these apply, he might very well be hungry. Pay close attention and you will be able to tell a “Feed me!” cry from an “I’m sleepy” cry from a “Change me!” cry in no time.