How to Know When Your Baby is Hungry
Babies can’t read a menu or place an order with you when they’re hungry. However, they supply you with nonverbal hunger cues. Understanding how babies let you know when it’s time to eat allows you to catch the signs of hunger early before your little one starts to fuss and cry. You’ll also avoid overfeeding if you spot your baby’s hunger cues when they first appear.
The particular signs of hunger vary from baby to baby; one child’s hunger cue could be another’s impending nap. The best way to know when your baby wants a meal is to get to know your own little individual through observation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding newborns every two to three hours, so use this recommendation as a guideline for when to start watching your child for signs of hunger. While every baby is unique, their gestural vocabulary is limited, so the signs of a hungry baby tend to follow a few broad trends.
The Hand-to-Mouth Gesture
Although babies lack the manual dexterity to mimic the eating gesture that adults might pantomime to signify hunger, a hungry baby will bring his fists to his mouth. Eating is a primal urge; humans instinctually put hands to mouth to satisfy the desire to have something to chew or suck when hungry.
If your baby moves her head from side to side as if looking for something, she might be looking for her next meal. Head-bobbing and head-shaking are early signs of hunger that can start well before your baby winds up for a good cry.
The Rooting Reflex
A hungry baby will turn toward and nuzzle anything that strokes his cheek. His mouth may open and close a few times as he searches for a food source to latch onto and suck. The rooting reflex is one of the earliest instinctual behaviors that humans show and is a very common sign of hunger.
Turning Toward Sound
Babies who are starting to feel a hollow belly are especially aware of noises around them and will glance in the direction of a sound, probably in hopes that a meal will be forthcoming. If your baby seems particularly alert and turns her eyes or head toward new sounds, she might be feeling peckish.
Showing the Tongue
Like baby birds, a baby human will open wide and poke out his tongue as if illustrating how empty his mouth currently is. Try offering him a breast or bottle if he’s showing his tongue, especially if the move is accompanied by other hunger cues.
A furrowed brow and a fussy disposition are more obvious signs of hunger, but subtler cues can help you head off a crying jag if you look for them.