Trying to sort out what your brand new tiny human is telling you can be difficult, and sadly they don’t come with a manual (cause that would be awesome!). Making sure your new baby is getting enough milk or formula is really important in those first few days to weeks to keep them healthy and thriving. A newborn should be feeding 8-12 times in 24 hours, or approximately every 2-3 hours until back to birth weight, then approximately every 3-4 hours after that. While timed feeds can be helpful, the best way is to watch your baby’s feeding cues. A sleepy baby will have trouble feeding, just like an over-hungry frustrated baby. So let’s walk through the typical steps of hunger cues for newborns and how they can help you find that feeding sweet spot.
I’M HUNGRY (EARLY CUES)
This will typically happen as your baby wakes from sleep or shortly afterward. They’ll start opening their mouth, turning their head, sticking out their tongue, smacking their lips, and become more alert. This is the best time to feed your baby so they don’t become frustrated and angry. Sometimes these cues can be subtle, so watching your baby closely and learning their individual cues can be helpful.
I’M REALLY HUNGRY (MID CUES)
Your newborn is really starting to get hungry now. They’re rooting and maybe even sucking on their hand or whatever is close to them. They may start fidgeting, squirming, or stretching in an attempt to position themselves for nursing and find the bottle or breast. This is the point where you want to feed your baby right away before they get to the next stage.
I’M REALLY REALLY HUNGRY aka HANGRY (LATE CUES)
It happens to the best of us where your newborn goes from early cues to late cues quickly, or maybe you missed the first few signs. Your baby will be crying, frantic, fussing, and agitated. These are late cues of hunger. Before you feed your newborn you need to calm them. Trying to feed them when they’re in the late hunger cues stage may result in a shallow or painful latch or a baby who tries to drink their bottle too fast only to have it all come back up. Place your baby skin to skin and spend a few minutes calming them before feeding them. If your frustrated baby is causing a painful latch, offer some expressed milk before re-latching, and use the Paced feeding method if you’re bottle-feeding.
A WORD ABOUT SOOTHERS
Soothers can be a great tool when it comes to sleep however they are cautioned in the early weeks for both breastfed and bottle-fed babies. If your baby is sucking peacefully away on a soother during sleep, you may miss a hunger cue and end up with a very hungry and potentially underfed baby. It is recommended to postpone using a soother until breastfeeding/lactation is established, at least 3 weeks, if not longer to prevent missing those important cues your sweet newborn is giving you. You can use the soother to help settle your baby to sleep, but once sleeping gently remove it to prevent any missed feeding cues.