Your newborn baby’s routine is pretty straightforward in the first few weeks of his life – feed, sleep, and repeat. All his needs are satisfied mostly by just breastfeeding since moms often relate an infant’s cry to hunger. The baby is hurting, moms feed. The baby is in distress, feed. But when are you sure that you are feeding him well? His plaintive cries afterward suggest that he is not getting enough. Why is this so? Is he just hungry or trying to tell you something else?
Overfeeding and underfeeding a baby is possible, although the former is not as common in breastfed babies. For once, it takes hard work for her to suck on the nipple. So unless you have a really forceful let-down, overfeeding is not a cause of concern. But if your baby is not getting enough supply, he will manifest his non-satiety through crying and other hunger indicators. How do you spot an unsatisfied and hungry baby? Read on to find out.
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Common Hunger Indicators for your Newborn
I once walked in on my cousin crying because her three-day-old baby won’t stop crying. And though I told you a baby’s routine is simple by theory, it’s not always easy to master a baby. She has done nearly everything – cradling, dancing around the house, cranking up the air-conditioner, all to no avail. She would latch her baby; he would feed for a while, then lapse into another bout of cries. It bothers her until we decided to formula feed my nephew and he started to settle down.
She had a low milk supply. It takes her a few more (painful, she said) stimuli with a breast pump until she was able to produce enough. Over the days when she has developed her bond with her baby, she can already tell the cues when the child wants to feed or just want reassurances.
According to WIC Breastfeeding Support of the USDA, you can tell that your newborn is hungry if:
- Your baby is putting his fist into his mouth
- He is sucking on his hands (rooting reflex)
- Baby is puckering his lips
- He is moving his head in search of a breast or bottle
Crying is a late sign of hunger – and that means your baby is really hungry. If you can respond to his clues earlier, you will not necessarily get to that level of desperation. Some parents who know how often they should feed a newborn may even follow an around-the-clock schedule while still breastfeeding on demand.
Reasons Why Baby is Still Hungry After Feeding
It is frustrating and frankly alarming if your baby still cries after feeding. If breastfeeding does not seem to settle him down, we cannot stop thinking about other possibilities. Is it gas and tummy problems, allergy, or colic perhaps? Or maybe, he is just still really hungry? Let’s go over some possible reasons.
Your Baby is Indeed Hungry
The notion breastfed babies are smarter is yet to be proven. But one thing is certain: breastfed babies are often hungrier than formula-fed. The reason behind this is that breast milk is easily digestible. So if you are breastfeeding, you should expect more cravings from your little one. This need keeps on increasing every day as he requires more nourishment to support his growth.
At some point, babies will go through rapid growth or what we call a growth spurt and get extra hungry. According to Healthline, growth spurts usually happen from the first week until the ninth month of a newborn’s life. If you noticed that your baby’s appetite has increased, just go ahead and breastfeed him a little longer to satisfy his cues.
Every baby is different, and we cannot always compare their milestones. But all of them go through the growth spurt process that may last for a few days. Hunger cues are more obvious, but babies may behave differently. Hence, some babies may sleep more than usual while others don’t. Strangely, as babies undergo this phase, their mom’s body will complement this by producing milk enough to sustain their physiological needs.
Gas and Tummy Problems
There is a good reason why burping a baby after every feeding is necessary. It’s to help him expel the gas that he has ingested while sucking. Otherwise, it will pool in his tummy and make him uncomfortable.
When your baby is gassy, he will show his discomfort through crying especially after every feeding. Some infants under three months of age may even get colicky due to the gas build-up.
The best way to deal with it is to simply get the baby to burp. You can do this by putting him in an upright position on your shoulder and gently rub his back. Once he gets rid of the trapped air, he may naturally feel hungry again.
On a lighter note, you may have heard how crying is beneficial to babies. Indeed, it is. In fact, it is a great sleep training technique. But letting your child’s cry go unpacified longer will only increase his gas ingestion. So you should know how and when to soothe your baby to prevent this from happening.
Latching Problems and Feeding Position
We know how demanding breastfeeding is from the start. Some moms end up getting frustrated, and babies discontented. The common challenge is in latching and positioning so that your newborn can get enough in every feed.
Babies themselves have varying nursing styles. You may notice some babies making clicking sounds and some with gentle sucking. If your baby seems to nibble on your nipple, latch for a short period, and cries after the feed, you may have latch problems.
Latching problems can occur if you have a flat or inverted nipple. Most moms find pumping a remedy to lengthen and draw out their nipples. It’s best to do this a minute or two before every feed.
We have an extensive article on helpful tips for latching and breastfeeding positions.
Food allergy is rare in breastfed babies according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. But allergens passing from the mom’s diet to her baby is possible. It can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, which can be the culprit of why your baby is still crying after feeding. However, you can often tell your baby has tummy problems relating to allergies if you find a trace of blood in his stools.
Eliminating allergens from your food can solve the problem. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think your baby’s irritability is related to food sensitivities.
I have a low milk supply. What should I do?
Some mothers may top-up breastfeeding with formula if she has a low milk supply. Pumping is a good remedy for increasing supply and solving latch problems. You can also talk to lactation specialists to troubleshoot your concerns and boost your supply.
My baby pulls away and cries during breastfeeding. Why?
If you have a powerful let-down of breast milk, babies may exhibit this behavior. They are naturally impatient and get frustrated with the gushing and thus, the shallow latch. It may happen if you delay feeding for long, and the baby does not latch properly.
How often should I breastfeed my newborn?
Normally, infants will feed at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. As they grow older, the time and length of feeding vary. Each feeding session usually lasts from 10 to 45 minutes, but it differs among babies. If your baby shows interest in feeding, breastfeed him on demand regardless of the time.
Should I alternate feeding in each breast every time?
Breastfeeding on each breast is recommended for the first few weeks after birth. This will help establish your milk supply. You can switch breasts within a feeding session. Or you can alternate such that you offer one breast first, then the other on the next session. You will find some breastfeeding apps a little handy for this purpose.
What are the signs that my baby is not feeding enough?
It’s hard to measure the amount of milk that your child gets if you are exclusively latching. Aside from being fussy, underfeed babies will show some of these signs:
- Poor weight gain pattern after the first month
- Fewer wet diapers (should have at least five wet nappies in 24 hours)
- Restlessness and irritability
- Hard and dry stools
- Dry eyes, mouth, and skin
- Worsening jaundice
A full and satisfied baby is a happy baby. Thus, when they seem off and heaving in tears, moms are also affected. Babies exhibiting hunger signs even after feeding are normal. Sometimes they just need a lot of fuel to support their growth. In some cases, they may not be pulling enough milk, which is easy to remedy with proper latching and positioning.
If your baby is sick, some symptoms may occur along with this fussiness. Call your doctor if you suspect something.
Most moms will tell you this about the first few weeks of breastfeeding: the struggle is real. Everyone went through the process and triumphed. But we know this is not the only thing that sent you into tears. What brought down yours? Share with us your unforgettable moments in the space below.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.