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Signs that your baby is hungry (and full!)

If you’re a new parent (or soon to be one) and you’re wondering how the heck you’ll know if your little one is hungry, fear not. Lucky for you, your baby will give you lots of signs of hunger. And while it might take a little while to recognize them, that’s normal too. In the meantime, we have all the info you need to help you make sure Baby is well fed.

Signs your baby is hungry

Even before your little one can talk, they’ll communicate a lot. Signs of hunger follow some pretty clear patterns for babies, ranging from early signs of hunger (when your little one may still be in a good mood) to active signs of hunger (when they’ll be working even harder to get your attention) to late signs of hunger (when they’ll be feeling more desperate to let you know that they are really, really hungry).  

Early signs of hunger include:

  • smacking lips, licking lips, or making sucking sounds with lips and mouth
  • opening and closing mouth or sticking out tongue
  • bringing fists to mouth
  • sucking on fingers, hands, feet, clothing, toys, or anything nearby (especially as a newborn)

It’s often easier to feed your baby during this early stage because even though they’re hungry, they’re also still feeling calm. And making time for skin to skin contact (where you hold your baby, just dressed in their diaper, against your bare chest) with your newborn, and then onward in the first few months of your baby’s life, can help you notice these signs early. When your baby is on your chest in this way, it’s a lot easier to catch these early hunger signs and even active hunger signs.  

Active signs of hunger include:

  • “rooting” or turning head and opening mouth when something brushes their cheek, essentially searching for breast or bottle with their mouth (especially as a newborn)
  • trying to get ready to feed, by laying back or pulling at your clothes
  • fidgeting and squirming 
  • hitting you on chest or arms repeatedly
  • breathing fast
  • fussing

During this stage of hunger your little one is starting to become more actively hungry, and they may become more worked up and agitated as they get hungrier. 

Late signs of hunger include:

  • crying
  • moving head from side to side 
  • acting frantic

When your baby is at this stage, they’re definitely doing all that they can to communicate that they’re hungry and not happy about it. If your child is in this later stage of hunger, sometimes they can be so worked up it can be hard to get them to settle down enough to feed easily. So do what you can to try and calm your baby first. Once they feel soothed and a bit calmer, they’ll likely be able to feed more easily. 

Why it’s so important to respond to your baby’s hunger cues

Certainly, once in a while you won’t be able to feed Baby quickly enough and they’ll move into full blown frantic crying mode. But it’s important to do what you can to respond to your baby’s hunger cues as early as possible. When you do your best to be responsive, and respond to your little one’s hunger cues with warmth and affection, it’s called “responsive feeding.” Responsive feeding helps lay the groundwork early for your child to develop healthy eating habits — including recognizing signs of being hungry and being full — and eventually feeding themself in a healthy way. Responding and being receptive also encourages bonding and helps your child feel secure — think about how good you feel when you clearly communicate something you need and then have your needs met promptly! Fewer tears makes for a more enjoyable mealtime for both you and your baby.

Signs your baby is full

And once Baby is happy and eating away, it’s also important to recognize when they’ve had enough. Some signs that your baby is full include: 

  • releasing breast or bottle from their mouth; letting breast or bottle drop away from their mouth; spitting out breast or bottle
  • starting and stopping feeding often or unlatch from the breast often
  • pulling away or turning head away from the breast or bottle 
  • closing mouth
  • relaxing their body
  • relaxing hands and opening up their fists
  • getting distracted or fidgeting
  • slowing down their feeding
  • falling asleep 

You’ll be a pro in no time 

Just like any other part of parenting, it can take a little while to learn all these signs. But soon enough, recognizing all your little one’s signs will feel like second nature. You’ve got this!

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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  • “Signs Your Child is Hungry or Full.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, October 1 2019. Retrieved July 13 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/mealtime/signs-your-child-is-hungry-or-full.html.
  • Kelly Bonyata. “Hunger Cues – When do I feed baby?” Kelly Mom. KellyMom.com, January 15 2018. Retrieved July 13 2020. https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/hunger-cues/.
  • “Is Your Baby Hungry or Full? Responsive Feeding Explained.” healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, September 1 2017. Retrieved July 13 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Is-Your-Baby-Hungry-or-Full-Responsive-Feeding-Explained.aspx.
  • “Signs Your Child is Hungry or Full.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, October 1 2019. Retrieved July 13 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/mealtime/signs-your-child-is-hungry-or-full.html.  

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