Are You Overfeeding Your Fussy Baby?

0-4 Months

Now that your baby is here, you want to do everything you can to help him feel comfortable and content. When he’s fussy, feeding him may offer a quick fix; however, if he's not actually hungry, you may end up overfeeding him. How you feed your baby from day one can affect his relationship with food for life. The best thing you can do from a food parenting standpoint is to learn, pay attention to and respond to his hunger and fullness cues.

Avoid overfeeding your newborn by learning what certain cries mean and how to soothe him.

How to tell why your baby is crying

Think of it like this: Crying is your baby’s superpower. It’s loud and stressful, so it motivates adults to help him. It’s normal for babies to fuss and cry because that’s how they communicate. As you learn your baby’s cues and respond appropriately, he will cry less.* That’s why it’s so helpful to understand that your baby isn’t cranky…he needs something.

Babies may cry for many reasons, not just when they’re hungry. He might be hot or cold, bored or tired, overwhelmed and overstimulated, uncomfortable or scared. And, of course, he might be hungry. Once you can recognize his cries, calming your fussy newborn will come much more naturally.

*This applies to a healthy, full-term baby, not a baby who is premature or one who has colic, reflux or another medical condition.

Ways to soothe without overfeeding your baby

Try these tips to soothe your baby:

  • Reduce stimulation. Turn or move baby away from a busy environment, like a room with older kids playing. In public, take baby to a quieter spot, and sing to or rock her.
  • Play with her. Try making eye contact and talking to her, showing her black-and-white or brightly colored pictures or toys, shaking a rattle or showing baby her reflection in the mirror.
  • Use repetitive motion with soft sounds. Think rocking, bouncing, rubbing his back, speaking or singing softly, over and over.
  • Find a routine that works for your baby. For example, some babies like to play, sleep, eat and repeat.
  • Try a pacifier. Babies are born to suck, so pacifiers are often soothing.
  • Help her sleep. Babies can only stay up for a few hours at a time; she might be irritable because she needs help falling asleep. Try the tips above to help baby nod off without a fuss.

Sometimes babies cry, even after you’ve done everything you can to console them. Many babies have a fussy time of day. Or your baby might be gassy or sick.

Signs your baby is actually hungry

Once you know what to look for, your baby’s feeding cues are fairly obvious. Hungry babies might cry, but remember to look for other, earlier hunger cues, like: 

  • Bringing her hands to her face
  • Rooting (looking for the nipple with her mouth)
  • Making sucking motions and noises
  • Sucking on her fingers or putting her fist in her mouth
  • Flexing her hands, arms and/or legs
  • Clenching her fingers or fists over her chest or tummy
  • Fast breathing

Crying is a late hunger cue, so try feeding your baby when she shows these early signs, instead of following a strict schedule. If your crying baby doesn’t show signs of hunger, her cries are probably due to something else. If your baby continues to cry shortly into the feeding, she probably wasn’t hungry. Rather than encouraging her to keep eating, try one of our soothing techniques above.

Still worried about your baby’s crying? Check with your pediatrician.