How to Know When Your Baby is Hungry (Before the Crying Starts)

After giving birth, many new moms are concerned about whether or not their baby is receiving enough milk and being sufficiently fed. Even though babies can’t say what it is they need, they rely on and use different sounds and movements to signal when they need to be fed long before crying begins. It may not be intuitive right away, but with time and close attention, you’ll be able to pick up on your baby’s signals.

We often think that crying is the most recognizable hunger cue. However, by the time your little one has started crying, they’ve likely already been trying to communicate their hunger. Crying is a late hunger signal – this means, by now your newborn's stomach is very hungry and they are beginning to show distress! Serious feeding problems can arise when relying too heavily on crying being the first sign that baby needs to feed.

Being Attentive to Hunger Cues

As a new parent, being attentive to early signs of hunger is key to knowing when and how often to feed your child. Beginning to nurse or feed your baby while they’re still calm will facilitate the most successful breastfeeding results. Once crying begins, it can be harder to properly latch.

What exactly are the signals babies use to tell you it’s time for a feeding? According to the CDC, in the early stages of hunger, newborns tend to:

  • Clenching their hands into fists
  • Bringing hands to their mouth / sucking on their hands and fingers
  • Puckering, smacking, or licking their lips
  • Turning their head towards your breast

Other signs may include becoming more alert and active, staring or following you with their eyes, opening and closing their mouth, drooling, sticking out their tongue, and fussing or breathing fast.

Signs That Baby Is Full

It can be difficult to know when your baby has been fed enough. But just like hunger cues, babies also show signs of fullness. Cues that babies are done eating are most usually recognized as:

  • Closing their mouth
  • Turning their head away from your breast
  • Opening their clenched hands 
  • Relaxing their body

Additional signs that your baby is full from feeding include releasing or pushing away from the breast, looking around or showing interest in other things, being content or grinning, or becoming tired and falling asleep.

If your baby seems to be full, try burping them, changing their diaper, or switching breastfeeding positions before offering them an additional chance to eat. If at that point they have lost interest or are struggling to latch, hunger has likely subsided. Feeding patterns will likely change over time, but your child’s cues should remain recognizable. 

How To Know if My Baby Is Eating Enough

A common concern that new mothers have is whether or not their baby is eating enough or if they themselves are producing enough milk. Mothers tend to breastfeed their newborns on average 8 to 12 (or more) times in a full 24 hour period. This frequent nursing schedule helps to regulate your body's breast milk supply to your child's appetite and specific hunger needs. As time progresses and your baby continues to frequently nurse, they should begin to gain weight (approximately 5.5 to 8.5 ounces per week of weight gain until four months of age).

Being aware of your baby’s stomach capacity will help to set realistic feeding expectations and create an overall much more enjoyable, worry-free breastfeeding and postpartum experience. Here is a breakdown of a baby’s stomach size by time period:

  • 1-2 Days: 0.2-0.4 Ounces (Comparable to the size of a blueberry)
  • 3-4 Days: 1-2 Ounces (Similar to the size of a grape)
  • 5-7 Days: 2-3 Ounces (Around the same size of a strawberry)
  • 2-3 Weeks: 3-4 Ounces (Close to a kiwis size)
  • 6 Months to 1 Year: 6 Ounces - 2 Cups (About the size of a grapefruit)

In relation to the average stomach size of an adult (around 4 cups, similar sizing to a cantaloupe), the stomach capacity of a newborn is very small. It takes a much smaller amount of milk and nutrients to fill their little stomachs! Anxiety and stress over milk production can decrease a woman's breast milk supply substantially. Knowing the size of your baby’s stomach and how much milk they actually need to be full, can bring peace of mind to your feeding experience.

What To Do if You’re Still Worried They’re Not Getting Enough

If you’re still worried your baby may not be getting enough milk, talk to a lactation consultant (IBCLC) or your healthcare provider. They can help to improve your overall feeding experience, address if your baby is getting enough milk, answer any questions you may have about what is normal in the first weeks of breastfeeding and pumping, help you overcome specific breastfeeding challenges, and ultimately teach you how to properly use a breast pump for optimal milk production. The earlier you reach out with any issues, the better!


Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.