Recognizing Signs of Hunger
The following are signals from your baby that will alert you that he or she is hungry:
- Open eyes
- Baby starts to wake (eyes flutter and hands move)
- Baby starts to squirm or move
- Sucking movements of the baby’s mouth
- Attempts to suck on fingers or fist
- Rooting (turning toward anything the baby’s face comes in contact with)
- Tongue thrusting
A baby does not have to cry to show readiness for feeding. Crying is a late hunger sign. It is much easier to nurse a baby who is calm and just beginning to show hunger than a baby who has been waiting so long for food that she or he is upset and crying. Just like you, your baby learns best when not distracted by discomfort or frustration.
In the first few days after birth, your newborn may not seem to want to vigorously breastfeed. During this time, it is important to encourage at least 10 feedings in 24 hours. This allows for some feedings to go more smoothly than others, while still allowing your baby enough opportunities to learn and enough signals for your breasts to produce more milk.
Watch for cues that your baby is hungry, and gently wake your infant to nurse her/him after any three to four hour period of sleep. Avoid using pacifiers in the first weeks so that your baby will use all of his or her sucking energy for feeding.
Frequent feedings during the first few days encourage milk production and help minimize breast engorgement. Your newborn’s stomach is very small. Consequently, he or she can only eat a small amount at a time and will need to feed frequently.
You’ll know your baby is sucking well when:
- The feedings are not painful for you.
- The baby has at least one bowel movement in a 24-hour period.
- The baby seems satisfied after feeding.
- You can hear your baby swallowing (after your transitional milk has come in).
- The baby has six to eight wet diapers in a 24-hour period (after your transitional milk has come in).
During the first few weeks at home, the baby will usually feed 10 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Your infant may “cluster feed,” which means wanting several feedings within a short period of time followed by a longer sleep period. Feedings will average one every two to three hours. Cluster feeding is fine for your baby. It is important to breastfeed whenever your baby is hungry. Your baby will nurse less often as he or she gets older. Take advantage of these early days. Put your feet up, get plenty to eat and drink, and rest while your baby nurses.
You can try burping your baby when he/she slows down during a feeding. Hold your baby upright against your chest with her/his head at your shoulder and give the baby gentle pats or circular rubs on the back. Alternatively, you can hold your baby in sitting position on your lap for a burp, with one hand patting and the other supporting the belly and jaw. Babies may not burp after every feeding.