Babies are born with basic communication skills that help them let mom, dad, or a caregiver know they have needs that require attention. This is typically done through different cues, including sounds and body movements. First-time parents learn to decipher these cues very quickly before their little one starts crying. Hunger and gas are two issues that babies have to contend with regularly, and knowing the difference between the two will go a long way to having a happy little one.
Hunger is part of your little one’s daily needs. The sooner you establish a healthy feeding routine and recognize hunger cues, the better.
In the first few weeks of life, your little one will often feed to keep their tiny tummy full. Keep in mind that breastmilk digests faster than formula. Breastfeeding mothers will need to commit to a baby on the breast more often than anticipated.
However, it could also be that your crying baby is gassy. In such a case, you could be mistakenly overfeeding them, unable to recognize the issue of gassiness.
But how do you recognize these cues?
Table of Contents
How to know if your baby is hungry?
When your baby is born, their stomach is the size of a pea. So, your little one can only drink about a tablespoon per feeding which explains the constant need to feed.
By the time your baby is one month old, their stomach will be the size of a golf ball, drinking approximately 89-118 ml (3-4 ounces) per feeding.
Crying is a sign of hunger but one of the late cues. There are usually a variety of subtle signs your baby will give to indicate hunger, including:
- Your baby will move their arms and legs, squirming, head from side to side, etc. It’s a subtle cue to watch out for.
- Your baby will make cooing, whimpering, or any other little attention-grabbing sound.
- Your little one will be awake and alert and might make a few faces to show you unhappiness.
- Your baby will put their hands in their mouth or make sucking gestures with their lip or tongue.
- Rooting becomes a voluntary action at about 4 months old, whereas previously, it was a natural reflex. This is when your baby turns their head toward your breast or bottle while making suckling feeding motions.
Since newborns have many different cries, each indicating another need, it is difficult to identify them at first.
Usually, newborns will let out a short, low-pitched cry when hungry.
When you notice any of these cues, you should respond quickly, so you don’t have to soothe a crying baby. Excessive crying often leads to gulping air with milk when your baby finally feeds.
If your baby is left to cry while you prepare a bottle or for breastfeeding, you can expect your baby to suck uncontrollably on the teat or your nipple.
This results in air being gulped down with the milk, leading to winds or gassiness that causes discomfort and more crying.
For bottle-fed babies, you should use any pause in feeding to burp your baby.
By 3 months old, you should be able to tell when your baby is hungry, but once your baby starts crying from hunger, you will have to calm your baby down before you begin feeding; otherwise, a lot of wind will be gulped down at the beginning which may cause discomfort.
During feeding, your little one will cue you if they still want to continue feeding. Here are two adorable cues to look out for:
- Babies should typically be burped before moving to the other breast or be burped halfway through a bottle feed. When you burp your baby, and they continue making suckling sounds, you know they are still hungry and want to continue feeding.
- Babies 4 months and older will begin smiling at you during feeding, showing interest in food and that they enjoy it.
How to look for signs to soothe your hungry baby?
When your baby displays any hunger signs, you should let them feed before their hunger cues lead to hunger cries.
When a baby cries from hunger, it means they are starving, and it causes them to become upset and more forceful in their communication.
An observant mother can catch the earlier cues and tend to her little one’s needs.
Feeding your baby is the only solution; breastfeeding is instant, whereas formula must be prepared first.
If you feed your baby formula, hold your baby in your arms and soothe your baby while you prepare the bottle. That little attention and comfort will buy you the time needed to prepare the bottle.
Babies older than three months cry less than younger babies because their communication skills have improved, and they use cues more often to tell you what they want.
Not all babies use this perfect communication routine to express hunger or discomfort from gassiness.
Colic can throw your effort to communicate with your little one out the window, and dealing with it is a trying time for any mom.
Signs your baby has colic
Colic is not a sign of an underlying health problem; it usually subsides and dissipates within a few months.
Colic usually manifests between 2 and 5 weeks old, and for many colic babies, the typical cry pattern begins in the early evening or the late afternoon.
A colic cry session is usually associated with the following:
- High-pitched crying and screaming that may resemble a tantrum.
- During this time, it is difficult or almost impossible to soothe your baby as you normally would.
- Your little one may display pale skin around their mouth that will be framed with a red face.
- Body movements like pulling in the legs, arching the back, clenching fists, and stiffening the arm are common. These signs are also commonly associated with gassiness.
It’s essential to understand the relationship between colic and gassiness.
Colic babies will have gas problems, but this is not what causes colic. Gas problems result from colic caused by all the air a baby swallows during a crying session.
Soothing a colic baby
You should soothe your little one just before you expect a cry session to start. This might be difficult to gauge, but there is a distinct pattern to colic cry sessions, and it won’t take long to know when to expect a cry session.
Here is what you should try:
- Feed your little one just before you expect a cry session, eliminating crying from hunger. Remember to burp your baby more often than usual during feeding sessions.
- If bottle feeding, ensure your baby is not swallowing air from the bottle. If so, change bottles and ask your doctor to recommend a different type or brand that may help with colic.
- Change your baby’s diaper if need be, and look out for skin irritations. Irritated skin causes discomfort and may cause your baby to cry.
- In consultation with your doctor, eliminate one item at a time from your diet to see if there is any change in your baby’s behavior.
- Rock your baby in your arms and walk a little. Skin-to-skin time works great to calm your little one. Interacting with your little one helps a great deal, as does new or fun activities like a ride in a stroller. A pacifier is a great tool but be careful not to allow your little one to become too dependent on it.
- A warm bath followed by a massage will help alleviate gas build-up. The warm water and gentle massaging motion have a calming effect on your baby.
- A baby swing or vibrating seat also works as the motion is relaxing. Driving around the block with your little one in a baby seat has the same effect.
- Play soft music. Babies relate to rhythmic sounds.
As you can see, you can do many different things to soothe your little one. What makes your effort unique is creating the ultimate environment to bond with your little one seriously.
How do I know if my baby is experiencing discomfort from gas?
Gas will bother any baby, particularly if it gets trapped and creates pressure that causes pain and discomfort.
You can look out for the following:
- Facial expressions like frowning, wrinkling eyebrows, or squeezing their eyes shut all indicate discomfort.
- Refusing to feed.
- Arching their back.
- Your baby is lethargic.
- Kicking and stiffening their muscles.
- Passing gas more than usual.
- Interrupted sleep.
How do I soothe my gassy baby?
Always start with a diaper check, and then try to burp your baby. Sometimes persistent burping will loosen trapped air and bring relief.
While you are busy with the diaper check, ensure that your little one’s clothing is comfortable and that nothing is lodged in there hurting them. Try feeding next and cuddle your baby in your arms.
Also, you may want to let your little one play in a warm bath followed by a gentle tummy massage which helps.
Pampering them helps to comfort and soothe them, but sometimes that extra TLC is all that is required besides the essential burping and feeding.
An important aspect to keep in mind is your diet. Your baby gets a bit of everything you eat through breast milk, and certain foods are prone to causing gas.
If you get gas from some foods, then chances are, your baby might have the same experience.
From 6 months old, babies start uttering sounds to express emotions, and mothers will pick up on newly acquired cues that baby uses to express hunger.
There are 5 basic sounds babies make in the lead-up to crying:
- Hunger is expressed with “Neh.”
- Upper wind or burp is expressed with “Eh.”
- Lower wind or gas is expressed with “Eairh.”
- Discomfort is generally expressed with “Heh.”
- Sleepiness or tiredness is expressed with “Owh.”
Babies use these sounds from birth, but it takes first-time moms a while to relate them to specific needs.
Some babies can walk and say a few words before they are a year old. They can recognize familiar faces, places, toys, or their favorite comfort item.
How do babies express hunger?
Hunger makes babies uncomfortable, so don’t be surprised if your baby’s cry becomes very loud in the same manner as expressing discomfort from gas.
With improved motor skills, your baby will use the following cues:
- If you are eating something, your baby will follow the food from your plate to your mouth and smack their lips.
- Reach for your plate, spoon, or fork, even if it’s not close enough to touch.
- Open their mouth for feeding when you raise your spoon or fork.
- Make sounds and wave their arms to attract your attention.
- Your baby will reach for your breast when you pick them up.
- Your baby may spit out and reject their pacifier.
It is not always easy to identify hunger cues in older babies as teething behaviors tend to cloud the mouth cues.
But mothers will be familiar with their baby’s feeding routine and newly acquired hunger cues.
You have to keep track of what you feed your little one and as you discover foods that give your little one gas, eliminate them until your little one can comfortably digest them without being plagued with gas.
When to seek medical help
For the most part, you will be able to tend to your little one’s needs without issue, but there are times when it becomes necessary to seek professional medical help.
As a rule, you should treat every cry as serious. In most cases, you will be able to resolve issues, but with colic, pain, and illness, it becomes more challenging to care for your little one properly.
Call your doctor or go to the hospital if you notice any of the following:
- Your baby has a temperature that indicates a fever (100.4°F or 38°C) or higher.
- Your baby looks ill and is less alert, active, or responsive than usual.
- Your little one has no appetite and shows signs of dehydration.
- Your baby has developed diarrhea and may show signs of blood in the stool.
- Your baby is constipated and in obvious pain.
- All efforts to soothe your baby fail.
- Swelling in the gland areas, especially below their bottom jaw.
- A rash or outbreak on their body
- Breathing difficulty or changed breathing tempo.
- Not responding to movements and sounds.
- Having a seizure.
- Injury from a home accident or while driving with your baby in the car.
Whether your little cries from hunger, gas or anything else causing discomfort, you should go through a mental checklist of your baby’s well-being.
Getting clarity from your doctor about anything that concerns you about your little one’s health is the right thing to do.