For new mothers, breastfeeding can come with a lot of questions and stress. One of the major questions is, ‘When should I breastfeed my baby?’.
Babies have specific behaviours and body language that indicate when they are hungry. Every baby is different and will produce their own signals, but learning to recognise the signs made by your baby can help to make breastfeeding a smoother process.
A newborn can indicate that he/she is hungry by:
- Opening their mouth
- Sucking on their thumb
- Sticking out their tongue
- Puckering their lips as if to suck
- Moving their head from side to side
- Putting their hands and fists into their mouth
- Moving their mouth towards something that stokes or touches their cheek; known as rooting
- Nuzzling against their mother’s breasts
- Making ‘Mmm’ sounds and pulling up their legs.
Your baby may not show all these signs, or you may not realise at first what your baby is trying to tell you, but as time goes by, you will start to recognise the specific cues. In case you miss an early indication of hunger, like the ones listed above, don’t worry, your baby will give more demanding middle-hunger cues like open eyes, more obvious rooting, active movement and/or sounds. After these, your baby will move on to showing late-hunger cues involving wriggling, fussing and crying. Don’t wait for your baby to start to cry before feeding them. Crying is considered to be a late sign of hunger and ideally you should try to feed your baby before they cry. Crying can be tiring for the baby, causing them to breastfeed less and fall asleep before the feeding is over.
It is important to recognise these signs as a method of positive reinforcement that can help breastfeeding in the long run. It gives babies positive feedback for producing certain gestures when hungry. Some mothers wonder if they should implement a newborn feeding schedule. Even though frequent feeding can help initiate and build milk supply, a schedule is not recommended as that may reduce the baby’s opportunity to feed whenever they are hungry. Instead, focusing on when the baby provides hunger cues is best. It must also be kept in mind that a lack of obvious hunger cues does not mean that your baby is not hungry. You should expect to feed a newborn at least 8-12 times a day.
Some signs that your baby is full include:
- Closing their mouth
- Turning their head away
- They decrease/stop sucking
- Spitting out milk
- Falling asleep
- Focusing more on their surroundings than you.
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- Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
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- "Signs Your Baby Is Hungry". Healthywa.Wa.Gov.Au, 2019, https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/S_T/Signs-your-baby-is-hungry.
- "Signs Your Child Is Hungry Or Full". Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/mealtime/signs-your-child-is-hungry-or-full.html.