Did you know that babies can talk? I’m not talking about crying because there are an endless number of reasons babies’ cry. Long before a baby cries, they talk to you with their body. These are instinctive behaviors of all healthy babies, birth to around 6 months do. I’m going to focus on how to know if your baby is hungry in their early days and months.
In the years that I have been working with pregnant and breastfeeding moms, this is one of the top two questions that I am asked. We’ve all heard that moms learn a certain cry that signals hunger and I remember focusing on my baby’s cries to try to understand. I did learn to tell what my baby was trying to convey that, but it wasn’t until after they were already upset. Instead of waiting for them to cry, let’s focus on what happens before they use their voice.
These behaviors are referred to as cues. The first hunger cues a baby gives happen before they even fully wake up. Their body starts to shift around, and they start making little sounds. They start moving their mouths in sucking or licking movements. This is a heads up to parents and caregivers that the baby will be waking soon to eat.
I want you to think back and picture in your mind a hungry baby. Where are the baby’s hands? Are the hands open or closed into fists? Believe it or not, babies’ hands can tell you so much about what is going on. A hungry baby will move their hands toward their mouth and their little hands will be closed into fists. They will also start turning their heads toward anything that touches their face, searching for their mother’s breast.
Babies aren’t going to start to cry immediately, but they will get to that point if their hunger cues are not recognized and responded to. The longer the baby talks with their body, the more agitated they become. We often recognize these hunger cues and try to sooth them or give them a pacifier. It might work for a time but that didn’t solve the problem, their hungry! Very young babies can focus on one thing, and if their focus is on their empty tummy, they cannot process anything else. This frequently causes problems with breastfeeding.
Latching onto the breast can become very difficult with babies learning to breastfeed. I remember being so frustrated when my breast was right there and instead of latching, my baby would have their eyes shut tightly, mouth open, head shaking back and forth, and screaming. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up crying with my baby. Moms often feel rejected by their babies when this happens. I frequently am told that the baby didn’t want their breast or did like their milk. This is a natural and normal reaction!
To sum this up, watch your baby for early signs of hunger. Their hands are a key part of understanding what they are telling you. Your baby can only focus on one thing at a time and if they are crying that is what they are focused on. If your baby is already crying, calm them. If they won’t calm in your arms, it’s okay to have someone else calm them! You are not being rejected! If you continue to have problems, please ask for help! There are people around you that can help! Call your doctor, lactation consultant, midwife, etc., just keep asking for help until you receive the help you need!
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