“Watch your baby” is standard advice for infant feeding but that can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Although babies can’t talk, in the literal sense, even newborns can communicate.
Your baby will let you know in a variety of ways that he is hungry—and, contrary to popular belief, crying is not one of the early signs. Crying is actually a late sign of hunger, and it is one that is best avoided. Babies who have to cry before being fed usually breastfed poorly and often fall asleep at the breast after a short time.
Signs that your baby is hungry include:
- Restlessness: Your baby is likely to squirm and wiggle, whether asleep or awake.
- Head movements: Your baby may move his head back and forth, wrinkling his brow.
- Eye movements: Your baby may exhibit rapid eye movement beneath closed eyelids.
- Mouth motions: Your baby may make sucking motions and sounds, lick his lips, smack his lips, or stick out his tongue. He may cough or yawn.
- Hand-to-mouth activity: Your baby may put his hand(s) to his mouth, and he may suck on his fingers or fists.
- Noise: Your baby may make soft murmuring noises that grow louder.
Watch your baby for these early signs of hunger, and when you see them, offer your breast. Your baby is more likely to latch on and breastfeed well if you offer your breast when he is quiet and alert. Offering both breasts at every feeding (starting with the breast that your baby nursed on last) will ensure that your baby gets all the milk he needs. But don’t worry if he is full after only one breast, since each breast can provide a full meal.
Keep in mind that some sleepy babies will not ask to eat often enough (at least 8 times in each 24-hour period). For the first month or so, it is a good idea to keep your baby close day and night, so that you can watch for these early signs of hunger and feed on request.