In an age of mommy wars, Breast is Best vs. Fed is Best campaigns, and baby-friendly hospital Initiatives, it can be difficult for new parents to know if indeed their baby is getting enough to eat. Hospital nurses are quick to discourage formula feeding and supplementing, but it is often the first suggestion doctors will make when you take your baby to their first weight check.
Whether you are breast- or bottle-feeding, knowing your baby's cues is an important step in ensuring your baby is getting enough to eat. Feeding on demand in the first weeks and months is an essential part of providing adequate nutrition for growth and development. Of course, if there is any concern you should take your newborn to a doctor and seek help from a lactation consultant.
What are the signs of hunger?
Sign #1: Rooting
What does rooting actually look like? Once you see it, you'll know that is exactly it. Rooting is when your baby will open their mouth and try to latch on to whatever is closest. That may mean they latch your shoulder, your shirt, or in some hilarious instances, your nose. This may also look like your baby head-butting you as they learn to control their head and neck while also seeking food.
Sign #2: Fingers and Toes
While your very young newborn may not be able to quite reach their toes yet, a baby putting their fingers in their mouths is a sure sign that they are hungry. As your baby gets older, they may start to suck their thumb, making this a slightly less reliable indicator of hunger. If your child is a thumb sucker, watch for them sucking on other fingers or even their toes, particularly if they try one and then another and another in rapid succession.
Sign #3: Lip-smackers
No, not the lip-gloss we all grew up with. Hungry babies will smack their lips or make fish lips as a cue to feed them. This may be especially true if they cannot reach their hands to suck on.
Sign #4: Go to sleep already!
Sometimes you may think your baby is finished, especially if they fall asleep while eating, but they are actually still hungry. Then they are up and fussing five minutes later! Especially in the first one to two months, your baby should be napping after eating and a baby who is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for more than a few minutes after finishing eating is likely still hungry.
Sign #5: Crying
While this is the hunger cue you are most familiar with, it is actually the last sign that babies will exhibit to indicate hunger. Some babies will sleep through other signs and wake up crying like their world is ending (it isn't, no matter what they think) which can be disconcerting for new parents. Some babies will need to be calmed down with a finger or pacifier before they are able to calm down enough to latch well.
But How Do I Know It Is Enough?
The most common piece of advice is to "look at output." How many wet and dirty diapers is your baby producing in a day? It is generally thought that as long as they are meeting the correct number for their age, things are working well. And while that may be true for some infants, it is worrisome to assume that it is true for all.
Instead, look to your baby's behaviour. While all babies sleep a lot, is your baby lethargic? Are they struggling to wake to feed, or stay awake long enough during a feed? If your baby is not waking to eat regularly, it can be a sign that they are not eating enough. You can also check their lips, and mouth to see if they are dry. A dry mouth and lips can be a sign of dehydration. The best indicator of appropriate intake is that your baby eats frequently and vigorously and that they gain weight.
Remember that your baby's health is a conversation between you and their doctor. There are resources available if your preferred feeding method is not working for you and your baby. It may take a few days, or even a few weeks, but you know your baby best and you will be able to read their cues. Even without words, newborns have a lot to say, we just need to learn how to understand!
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