How do I know if he’s hungry?

Pretty much every new parent wishes their baby came with instructions or could at least speak and tell them what they need. The good news is that babies actually do communicate with you. Newborns have a series of cues, called feeding cues, that help you to understand what they are asking for.

I mentioned this in my post on preparing in pregnancy, but one great book that will fully school you in understanding your baby is The Baby Book by Dr. Sears. I read this when I was pregnant with my first and felt very confident in breastfeeding despite being a teenager and having the baby in the nursery initially)!

What do feeding cues look like?

  • Very light sleep, REM sleep: In this state, babies are very easy to rouse to take the breast.
  • Quiet alert: In this state, babies are very calm and are in the perfect feeding state.
  • Mouthing (licking the lips, turning mouth to the side): Baby is pretty clearly saying “please feed me.”
  • Hands to mouth: This baby is pretty hungry and is ready to eat.
  • Crying: Crying is a late sign of hunger. At this point you may have to calm baby before you’re able to successfully latch.

Other things you should know:

  • Babies love to suck and they suck for lots of different reasons: hunger, comfort, cold, hot, thirsty, etc.
  • Sometimes babies show feeding cues just to get close to mama.
  • The best plan is to offer the breast when feeding cues are exhibited. If baby sucks briefly and falls asleep quickly, maybe baby just wanted to be close. This is ok and normal.

The moral of the story:

  • If you see feeding cues, offer breast. He may not want to breastfeed, but you should at least offer.
  • If baby just wants to suck for comfort, that’s ok. It’s because breastfeeding is comforting, not because he’s “using you as a pacifier.”
  • He may still confuse the heck out of you with trying to communicate his needs. Remember he’s brand new here and is just as confused as you!
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