There’s no sugarcoating it: parenting a new baby is stressful. Of all the things that send moms into panic mode, feeding can be the most stressful.
However a mom chooses to feed her baby, whether it be breastfeeding or bottle, what matters is that her bundle of joy is getting enough nutrients for healthy growth. Both feeding methods come with certain challenges and for any parent, knowing how much baby wants, and how often, is all part of the learning curve.
With bottle-fed babies, many parents worry they are underfeeding when they don’t drink as much milk as expected, and for breastfeeding moms, knowing how much liquid a baby is consuming can be a mystery; after all, it's not possible to mark it off in ounces like bottles.
The problem is that infants, unlike older kids, don’t have the words to let us know if they’re hungry. That’s not to say, however, that they can’t communicate their needs in other ways.
Babies actually give little signals about their appetites all the time. Parents just need to learn how to spot them. Knowing and understanding these physical cues can help prevent underfeeding, which can have lasting physical effects on a baby’s development.
20 Restless, Squirming, And Fussing After Feeds
You’ve recently fed baby, so why is the baby still so restless? A fussy baby who is squirming, fidgeting, and generally wriggling around, is trying to tell you something — but what is it?
Restless behavior can be a sign of tiredness, trapped wind, or hunger. But if the baby is wide awake, and burping and comforting them hasn't done the trick, it might be worth offering milk again.
While other tell-tale signs—like lip-smacking and finger-sucking—are the early signals baby is hungry, active movements like squirming and fidgeting are late hunger cues, performed to get mom’s full attention. If these go ignored, crying might be on the cards.
19 Putting Fingers Or Fists Into Their Mouth
Babies seem to spend most of their first year with fingers in their mouths. They do it for comfort, to cope with over-stimulation in busy environments because it helps them feel safe and secure. But they also do it out of hunger.
By suckling their fingers, babies are trying to trigger a release of milk, just as they would on the bottle or from mom. The poor thing just doesn't realize it won’t get the same results. However, it’s a pretty effective way of communicating to caregivers that they are hungry. Parents just need to learn to recognize the hint.
18 Fewer Than Six Wet Diapers In 24 Hours
Unlike formula feeding, which is a process that can be carefully measured, breastfeeding makes it hard to know how much milk a baby is drinking. Straight from mother to baby, mom’s can’t physically see the quantity of milk the little one is ingesting.
But regardless of how you feed your baby, there are super useful ways to tell if your kid is thriving, or not feeding very well, by examining the contents of their diaper.
According to the National Childbirth Trust, wet diapers should become more frequent when the baby is about five days old, with at least six every 24 hours from then onwards.
17 Baby's Pee Is Dark And Smelly
It’s vitally important for parents to learn the basics about baby pee. Knowing what to look out for can provide you with useful insights into your baby’s health and wellbeing. It’s not just frequency you have to keep tabs on, either. Sometimes a change in color may indicate a health issue or illness.
In a healthy baby, normal urine color may range from colorless and light yellow to dark yellow. As with adults, the darker the urine, the more concentrated it is, and it will smell stronger, too. This might indicate baby is not getting enough to drink, in which case you should offer extra feeds.
16 Little One's Skin Is Becoming Yellowish
Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition that occurs in about two out of three of all healthy newborn babies. It causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of eyes and while it isn't usually a cause for concern, it’s important to monitor it. If the condition isn’t improving or is worsening after baby’s first week of life, it may be a sign of a problem with the baby’s feeding and level of hydration, so it’s worth flagging to a health professional.
Jaundice is more common in breastfed babies; Breastfeeding jaundice develops in newborns that struggle with breastfeeding and don’t get enough breastmilk, while breastmilk jaundice is when a baby has a jaundiced reaction to the milk itself.
15 Listen Carefully - Is Baby Making Clicking Sounds?
Any nursing mom knows that a correct latch is everything. When baby is latching on correctly, they’re hopefully feeding happily and getting a great supply of milk. But if latching isn’t going well, and baby is struggling to feed, there are some tell-tale signs moms can stay peeled for. One of these is clicking.
A clicking or clucking sound during nursing indicates that baby is repeatedly breaking the seal or suction, and this can also create seriously sore girls for mom. If the clicking causes discomfort for mom, or if the baby is not getting as big as expected, it would be worth seeking the help of a lactation consultant.
14 Baby's Skin Is Still Wrinkled After The First Month
It’s not unusual for newborn babes to appear a little wrinkled. A few weeks of healthy eating, however, usually fills out the skin so it becomes plump and smooth. But when baby’s skin still lacks elasticity after a few weeks, and it appears wrinkled, shriveled, and still very delicate, it might be a sign of dehydration.
If the baby is dehydrated, you may also notice that the skin is dry, both in its appearance and to the touch, with a cool feel to it as well. A simple way of assessing elasticity is to do a pinch test, which involves gently pinching the skin to see how long it takes it to return to its original position.
13 Baby Has Dry Eyes And Mouth
Babies have tiny tummies; they metabolize milk very quickly and they can’t store much in the way of excess fluid, which is why they can become dehydrated way faster than adults.
Dehydration is not uncommon in babies but it is essential parents recognize the signs because it can become a serious problem in no time at all. Chapped lips, dry skin, and tearless crying are symptoms of possible dehydration, along with dark urine and fewer wet diapers. Offering baby more milk may help combat the problem, but it’s best to seek medical advice. In extreme cases, babies will need treatment right away.
12 Baby Is Not Getting Bigger Over Time
Keeping track of how big (or small) your baby is getting is an important indicator of how healthy and well they are. Your baby will be laid on the scale at birth and at certain stages during their first weeks and months.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, it’s completely normal for the baby to lose a few pounds in their first few days of life, as they get rid of urine and meconium. However, babies shouldn’t lose more than 10% of their size, and if they have, and have not returned to it by three weeks old, they should be assessed by a health professional. The reason might be underfeeding.
11 Baby Isn't Emptying Mom's Chest
When an excessive build-up of milk happens, the area can become engorged, which can be super painful. While it’s natural for your chest to feel heavy and tender, as soon as the area becomes painful and hard, mom has a problem.
An engorged chest occurs when baby isn’t nursing efficiently, or you are expressing more milk than your baby needs. It can also cause milk supply to decrease because your body will read it as a sign that too much milk is being produced — just at a time when your baby needs more for their growth.
Try to prevent engorgement by offering baby frequent feeds and breastfeed her at night. Don’t wait too long between feeds.
10 Baby Is Increasingly Lethargic And Sleepy
New babies can sleep a lot, and not always when you want them to. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that newborns get 14-17 hours of sleep per day, and it does not necessarily mean cause for concern if the baby occasionally sleeps for longer than this. It could just be a growth spurt or a minor illness, like a common cold. But if the baby is expressing other symptoms, it might point to a problem.
Some babies sleep too much because they are not getting enough food, and they can become very lethargic. This kind of behavior, combined with fussiness, jaundice, and fewer pounds, for example, might suggest underfeeding.
9 Dry And Infrequent Stools
Every baby is different and, as a parent, you’ll soon get to know what’s normal for your child when it comes to bowel movements. But pay close attention, because soiled diapers can give you valuable clues about your baby's health.
If your baby is exclusively breastfed, stools will be yellowish or slightly green and have a mushy or creamy consistency. Formula-fed babies have pasty, peanut butter-like stools on the brown color spectrum.
But if you see the number of soiled diapers suddenly decrease, combined with hard, pebble-like poos, this could mean that your baby is not getting enough liquids or that your baby is losing liquids because of a fever or other illness. In this instance, it's worth seeking advice from a doctor.
8 Baby Is Waking Up... A Lot
The concept of night and day means nothing to very young babies, who regularly wake every two or three hours for a feed and attention. But by three months, many are settled into a pattern of longer sleep times, perhaps four to five hours, and by six months, some babies have dropped night feeds altogether.
Hunger makes it really tough for babies to sleep. Their brains rightly recognize hunger as a priority and they’ll stay alert until that need is met, or the need to sleep overrides it. So if your baby is underfed, you can expect disrupted sleep patterns at night and short naps in the day.
7 Baby Is Stretching Out Her Tongue
Babies experience the world with their tongues. They love licking and sucking on new objects and surfaces. It’s how they explore their surroundings and learn to notice the feel of his or her own lips — and it’s totally normal infant behavior.
Sticking out the tongue is also part of the feeding instinct and can be one of the baby’s hunger cues. When a baby sticks out his tongue to show you he is hungry, he will often smack his lips at the same time. It’s a different action to when a baby sticks his tongue out to signal fullness, which is often done with a decisive head motion.
6 Baby Just Won't Stop Rooting
The rooting reflex is one of several reflexes babies develop in the womb; the suckling reflex is another. Rooting is an involuntary action and it is vital in helping a newborn find a breast or bottle to begin feeding.
During your baby's first few weeks, when you stroke his cheek, his natural reflex will be to start rooting. After four months of age, rooting becomes a voluntary action rather than a reflex, according to Healthline. Babies that are bottle fed still have a rooting reflex even though they don’t need to locate your chest.
If the baby is rooting, they are communicating that they are hungry and they’re trying to locate a feed.
5 Moving Head Frantically From Side To Side
By the time baby turns one month old, he or she will have the motor skills and muscle strength to move their head from side to side. Although it can be one of baby’s first playful interactions, it also commonly occurs when babies are nursing and trying to establish a latch.
If the baby is frantically moving her head around, she might be getting frustrated because they are struggling to latch on. The result of this is she’s not getting an adequate milk supply and is probably hungry. If successful breastfeeding has been established, this head motion might be caused by excitement because baby wants her milk.
4 Baby Has Dimples During Breastfeeding
Any breastfeeding mom will know there’s a knack to successful feeding and it all comes down to a good latch. It doesn’t matter how much time is spent breastfeeding, if baby isn’t well-attached, he won’t be getting enough milk.
According to La Leche League, baby needs to latch on "nose to nipple," with his "chin first" close to or on the area, and head tilted slightly back. Baby should be able to take in a really big mouthful of tissue.
If it’s going right, baby’s cheeks will be full and round. If they appear dimpled when he sucks, this is a sign there’s too much unfilled space in his mouth and he’s not latching successfully.
3 Lots (And Lots) Of Crying
Of all the communication tools in a baby’s arsenal, their last resort, if all else has failed, is crying. A hunger cry is usually a short, low-pitched cry that sounds fairly desperate and unrelenting. Crying is a late hunger cue and by the time a baby starts wailing, she will be so frustrated and stressed out that calming her down in order to feed might be difficult.
Picking up on the early hunger signs, like finger sucking, rooting, and lip-smacking, will help prevent baby from reaching this stage. And let’s face it, everyone will be happier without the tears.
2 Baby Is Always Sick
The World Health Organization estimates that 45 percent of child deaths are related to undernutrition. If baby isn’t feeding well, it’s important not to dismiss this as something that will improve over time. Professional medical advice should be sought.
It is essential that babies digest the necessary nutrients to thrive and develop — missing key nutrients can lead to serious issues such as compromised immunity, malnutrition, and stunted growth.
A compromised immune system leaves baby susceptible to common infections, and it will have to work harder to fight them. This means baby might be ill for longer and there is a risk of developing complications.
1 Baby Is Whimpering
Before baby breaks into a full-blown hangry wail, they are going to build up to it and give parents the chance to take preventative action. First, there will be the early cues, like licking lips, rooting and sticking out a tongue. Then there will be the active cues — the fussing, restless movement, increased leg or arm movement, and even pulling on mom's clothes.
Just before the final sign begins (crying), a baby will emit a few sounds in the lead-up. Cooing, sighing, whimpering, or other little sounds, could all be part of your baby’s way of telling you she wants a feed.