For you and your baby alike, eating is an important social and nutritional event. We eat for many reasons! We eat when we are celebrating a birthday or worried about something. But unlike adults, infants are dependent on you as parents to come to them and feed them. This may evoke a sense of worry that you won’t know when or how much to feed your baby. But feeding is also an opportunity for you to be close with your baby, providing not only milk, but also comfort and physical and social stimulation.
Most babies will be clear about when they do or do not want to eat, and just because you are hungry does not mean your baby is too. It will take time and trial and error to learn your baby’s habits, preferences, and ways to signal their needs. Some hunger cues include: sucking on his fists, smacking his lips, rooting (turning to the direction of touch), opening his or her mouth when feeding, smiling during feeding, and ultimately crying. Babies will also let you know when they have had too much to eat. Some fullness cues include: closing their lips, turning their head away, decreasing or stopping sucking, spitting out the nipple, falling asleep when full, or spitting up. Another indicator of whether your child is getting enough to eat is how frequently they are urinating. Over time, you will feel yourself being able to better interpret your baby’s cues, and more accurately determine when and how much to feed your infant.
Video demonstrating different hunger and satiety cues //source: American Academy of Pediatrics
New parents may worry if they are feeding their baby too much or too little. Will your baby grow as they should, or not enough? These worries are normal, as you probably have an “ideal” of what a healthy and well-fed baby should look like. This “ideal” is different for different cultures, families, and even individuals. Although each baby is different, during 1-4 months, babies usually gain 1 ½ to 2 pounds, while growing about 1 to 1 ½ inches each month.
It can seem challenging to learn your infant’s hunger and fullness cues. You may be frustrated when your infant spits up or turns away from the bottle or breast, and there is unfortunately no way to eliminate the hunger sensation completely. However, feeding is a time for you to form memories and close connections with your infant. As time progresses, you will become better able to perceive, interpret, and respond to your baby’s needs. Enjoy sharing meals with your infant!
For additional information and resources, take a look at the following.
1. As you get to know your baby better, you may start to notice cues for when he or she would like to stop eating. With time you will become better able to interpret and respond to these cues. Check out this video by the Infant Nutrition Council of America on how to tell if your baby is full and different cues to look for when feeding your infant.
2. Did you know there is an iPhone app that can help you track your infant’s feedings, naps, weight, etc.? The Baby Feed Timer allows parents to indicate many aspects of the feeding experience, such as when and how long they were feeding. Find out more here, and maybe try it out!
3. For your baby, feeding time is not only a biological experience to gain the necessary nutrients, but also a social experience for you to interact with your baby. During your baby’s first few months, you play an active role in this feeding experience, deciding when and how much to feeding their infant. In “Cranky Baby? Feeding May Not Be the Right Answer” written for the New York Times, Dr. Perri Klass discusses some research studies exploring interventions for parents to learn different strategies for reading their babies signals.
4. Check out this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics for more details about how to tell when your baby is hungry and how much they should eat. In addition to reading your baby’s cues, your baby’s diapers and growth can be indicators of whether they are getting enough to eat.
Gross, R. S., et al., (2010). Maternal perceptions of infant hunger, satiety, and pressuring feeding styles in an urban Latina WIC population. Academic Pediatric Association, 10(1), 29-35.
Hodges, E. A., Hughes, S.O., Hopkins J., Fisher J.O. (2008). Maternal decisions about the initiation and termination of infant feeding. Appetite, 50, 333-339.
Mayes, L. C. & Cohen, D. J. (2002). The Yale Child Study Center Guide to Understanding Your Child: Healthy Development from Birth to Adolescence. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.