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How to Know if Your Newborn Is Hungry

“Mom, I’m hungry!” 

While you’ll hear this phase endlessly throughout your years as a parent, it will be quite some time before your newborn can tell you verbally that they’re hungry. Thankfully, young babies give us other cues to let us know they need to eat.

Crying is a late sign of hunger. There are several more subtle newborn hunger cues to look out for. A fussy, very hungry baby may be more difficult to feed as they may not have the patience to establish a good latch. That’s why it’s important to learn your baby’s early hunger cues. Newborns need to eat every 2-3 hours, so you’ll have lots of opportunities to learn these signs. It may feel confusing at first, but when you pay close attention to your newborn you’ll soon recognize their hunger cues. Let’s explore how to know if your newborn is hungry. 

Newborn Hunger Cues 

Putting Hands to Mouth 

One of the first things newborns will do when they begin to feel hungry is to bring their hands toward their mouth. As hunger progresses, they will bring clenched fists up to their mouth to gum or suck on. Some babies can even bruise themselves from sucking on their hands and arms so vigorously!

Becoming More Active

Newborns need a lot of sleep and have brief periods of alertness. The first is a quiet alert phase, when they calmly observe their environment with wide open eyes and gentle, slow movements. The next is an active alert phase when they move their face and body more vigorously – and they are getting hungry! When your baby moves from the quiet alert to active alert phase, it’s time to prepare for a feeding. 

Turning Head (Rooting)

When newborns are hungry, their instinct is to head toward the breast or bottle. They show this by turning their head to the side, called rooting. Babies will root on their own when they’re hungry, but this instinct is also an innate reflex that can be elicited by gently stroking the corner of your baby’s mouth. Rooting helps newborns find the breast or bottle and this reflex lasts until about 4 months. 

Puckering Lips

Another way to know if your newborn is hungry is if they pucker, smack, or lick their lips. This behavior is pretty universal, and it’s why even as adults we describe particularly delicious meals as lip-smacking good! As your baby grows, you may also notice lip smacking and puckering during teething as well. 

Making Neh Sounds 

Moderately hungry babies may begin to make some noise before moving onto fussing and crying. The sound may often sound like Neh, as it is produced when the tongue is pushed up on the roof of the mouth during the sucking reflex. 

Signs Your Newborn is Full 

In addition to the common newborn hunger cues, babies also give clues that they are full. Not all babies will immediately come off the breast or bottle when they’re full, preferring instead to comfort suck for seemingly forever. Thankfully, there are other ways to tell that they’ve had enough to eat – and that you can take a break from nursing! 

A satiated baby will not put their hands to their mouth, root for the breast or bottle, pucker their lips or clench their hands. In contrast, they will have a relaxed body and demeanor, and will often fall straight asleep after a feeding. Here are signs that your newborn is full:

  • Relaxed hands and arms 
  • Calm, content demeanor
  • Turns head away from the breast or bottle 
  • Closes their mouth 
  • Falls asleep easily