Sarah Norris – The Baby Detective

How Do I Know If My Baby Is Hungry ?
June 19, 2020
Learning how to answer this question is the key to your baby’s health, to your sleep, and to the difference between chaos and calm in your baby’s first few weeks, so it’s really worth trying to figure out.

How Do I Know If My Baby Is Hungry ?

How do I know if my

baby is hungry?

Learning how to answer this question is the key to your baby’s health, to your sleep, and to the difference between chaos and calm in your baby’s first few weeks, so it’s really worth trying to figure out.

Why won’t my baby sleep ?
Why does my baby cry so much ?
Why is my baby snacking all the time ?
Why is my baby not putting on weight ?
Why do I have to hold my baby all the time ?

…these are the questions that I get asked the most, and my first thought in all cases is ‘could baby be hungry ?’

The thing is, it’s not always easy to tell, even for experienced parents and experts, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t figure it out straight away…it just takes time and a bit of help.

The Foundation Four

What you need to know is that in the first 3 months your baby has 4 basic needs, the Foundation 4 and if you can meet all these, your baby will be happy and healthy (which means you can get some sleep, relax and enjoy your baby)

Baby needs to be:

  1. Well Fed
  2. Comfortable
  3. Well Rested
  4. Secure

But it’s not quite as simple as it looks, because to meet all these needs, means a constant balancing act, which is going to be different for each baby and family, because each baby and family are different and totally unique.

This is why ‘one size fits all’ routines or solutions don’t work. At best they are a waste of time, and at worst they are dangerous.

If even one of these needs are not being met, it can very quickly cause a downwards spiral of stress and chaos, as everything has a knock-on effect on everything else.

The frustrating thing is that when you start looking at how your baby is behaving, you realise that actually, whether they are tired, hungry, in pain or stressed all the symptoms are basically the same.

…crying, screaming, grizzling, wriggling, not sleeping, needing to be held, not feeding, or feeding all the time, so how do you know what the problem is ?

Where do I start ?

I’ve found that it helps to think of it as a big knot, and the best thing to do is to find ‘an end’, somewhere to start untangling.

As food is our most basic need, we start with giving baby a full feed.

Baby has to be hungry enough to feed well, so we need to find a time when your baby hasn’t fed for at least 2 hours, and if that means you have to sit holding them, with a dummy in their mouth, to keep them going, so be it.

It’s worth it because THAT gives us our starting point.

Our aim is to make sure baby is properly full of milk, and so well winded that they will easily fall asleep and stay asleep for a decent length of time, and the best way to make that happen is to do what I call a ‘Business Feed’

baby in shirt and tie sitting at computer keyboard to emphasise the importance of being business-like when feeding our babiesA What ?

A Business Feed, meaning we become business-like in our attitude towards the feeding.

It isn’t a time for cuddling, or snacking, or cooing and chatting, or snoozing.

It’s a time for feeding, winding and waking, repeatedly, until baby is relaxed, and preferably in a milk coma (so full that young babies seem drunk, and just want to sleep it off, or older babies are relaxed and happy.


How do I know if my baby has wind ?

Did you know that when a baby stops feeding its often because they have wind ?

A baby’s stomach has stretch receptors in it that send signals to the brain telling it baby is full because the stomach is full.

If baby has swallowed wind that is stretching the stomach, it can mimic the full feeling.

If that wind isn’t causing baby any obvious discomfort it goes to sleep, and you think the feed is over.

You put baby down to sleep, after a while they burp, the stomach shrinks, and those pesky stretch receptors start telling the brain that baby is hungry again.

Baby wakes up, (usually just as you are about to eat, or fall asleep!) and you end up feeding again…and this goes on and on and on.

Once you know about this vicious circle, you can interrupt it by making sure you wind your baby really well every time they stop feeding, and keep going until they burp, or seem more awake, and you can read about how to do that in my blog How To Wind Your Baby.


Why won’t my baby feed ?

Sometimes a baby will stop feeding and seem really uncomfortable, wriggling and complaining when you try to feed them, so you think they are full and don’t want any more milk, but this can also be caused by painful wind trapped inside baby’s stomach.

Baby is hungry, but when they drink, it hurts their stomachs so they refuse the breast or the bottle, and between the pain and the hunger they can get so frustrated and upset that they start crying and screaming, and you end up thinking they have colic or reflux.

Again, check out my blog above, and get that winding sorted…you won’t believe the difference it will make.

But what if its not wind ? What if your baby just falls asleep ?


Should I wake my baby to feed ?

If it’s daytime, the answer is generally YES !

Your baby needs a certain amount of sleep and will take this in a series of long stretches and short naps.

If you let your baby sleep for long stretches in the day, guess when they are going to have their short naps ?

Yep ! All through the night, when you are trying to sleep.

Sometimes things get so out of whack that there aren’t any long stretches, no real night or day, just an endless cycle of naps and feeds, and this is what I call ‘Snack and Snooze’

Now, don’t get me wrong, if that works for you and your baby, it’s absolutely fine, don’t change a thing.

If, however, this is starting to get you down and feels like Groundhog Day, don’t worry, you can begin to improve it within a few hours by doing your first Business Feed.

You start the same way, by trying to get your baby to go for 2 hours (or as near as you can get) without feeding, by cuddling, using a dummy, putting baby in a sling, going for a walk etc.

If you can keep them asleep during this time, even better, because they will be more likely to feed well.

Then you feed them, and when they start to fall asleep, you wake them up…no matter what it takes.

How can I wake my baby to feed ?

I know it can seem like an impossible task, but some things to try are

  • Winding
  • Changing their nappy
  • Undressing them
  • Washing their face and neck
  • Rubbing their tummy and back vigorously (not soothingly)
  • Fanning them with a magazine of a folded muslin
  • Fiddling with their feet

baby in blue lying on a changing mat having their nappy changed to wake them upWaking them when they want to sleep may feel a bit mean, but remember you are doing this for their own good, and it certainly won’t do them any harm.

 You can also try laying them flat on their back on the floor and leaving them for 5, 10 or even 20 minutes.

 This can help wind gather in their stomach to the point where it gets uncomfortable and wakes them up, and it can also let them have a quick snooze to take the edge off their tiredness.

 I know…I said we are trying to break the Snack and Snooze habit, but what I haven’t mentioned yet is the time limit…the ‘Feeding Hour’.

 You are going to set aside an hour for feeding your baby, and that is going to be your whole focus for the next 60 minutes, and once that hour has ended, you stop until the next feed.

 And its this structure that stops the bad habits, and makes way for good ones.

 So what does this look like in practise ?

  • Do whatever you have to do to create a 2 hour gap since the end of the last feed.
  • Set aside 1 hour with no distractions so you can focus on feeding.
  • Feed baby until they stop or fall asleep
  • Wind and wake (and make sure they are properly awake, to the point where they are complaining, so they don’t just have a few sips and fall asleep again)
  • Feed until they stop or fall asleep.
  • Wind and Wake.
  • REPEAT for the whole hour, or until your baby goes so soundly asleep that you really can’t wake them.

 **with young and small babies they may be milk drunk and fast asleep after 20 or 30 minutes and this is fine, because they have smaller stomachs and less stamina to keep feeding…you don’t need to keep feeding for the whole hour**

 Now stop and think about what you’ve just done, and look at our Foundation Four checklist

  1. Well Fed
  2. Comfortable
  3. Well Rested
  4. Secure

 By putting a stop to snacking/grazing you made sure baby was hungry at feed time.

 By repeatedly waking and feeding you made sure baby was full

 By really focusing on winding you have gone some way to making them feel comfortable.

 So you have cracked No.1, and got started on No.2.

 Your baby is now much more likely to go down for a decent sleep, and will be even more likely to do this if you swaddle them.

 Swaddling them firmly helps them feel secure because it feels like they are still being held.

 It also prevents their own Startle Reflex and Rooting Reflex from waking them by accident.

 So you’re improving No.3 and No.4

 By controlling the lead up to the feed, and by then doing a Business Feed, you’ve met all baby’s needs…you’ve broken the downwards spiral.

 **You can still use this strategy even if you’ve been demand feeding, just make sure that you breastfeed or express at least every 3 hours and your milk supply will not be reduced…in fact, as your stress levels go down and you get more time to rest, your supply will probably improve**

 Business Feeds can help with

 Sleep problems – helps baby go to sleep and staying asleep, makes sleep/naps more predictable

 Feeding – improves weight gain, reduces stress, less frequent feeds reduces pressure on you, predictable feed times gives you more control of your life

 Wind – baby is happier to feed, less crying and discomfort, feeds are less stressful for you both, baby sleeps better and more reliably

 Reflux – fewer feeds and better winding mean less pain, improves weight gain, improves sleep, reduces stress for you

 Routine – creates a gentle flexible routine, helps manage time with siblings/partner, allows for socialising, medical appointments, baby groups/school runs, and gives you predictability and structure, and gives you breaks for rest and recovery.

 Sometimes, just this one intervention is enough to make a massive difference, but usually it takes repeated cycles of the same pattern through the day to really get the upwards spiral towards calm, sleep and sanity that you are looking for.

 I know there is a lot to take in so to help you understand better, and to get you started, I’ve created a Free 10 page Download that shows you how to implement the Business Feed throughout a whole day, step-by-step.

 Just sign up in the box below to get instant access to your feeding guide, and remember, if you have any questions, or need more help, come over to my free FB group, Lockdown Babies.


The Author

I’m Sarah Norris, a Baby Care Consultant and Parenting Coach.

I have spent over twenty five years, often working 24 hours, 6 days a week, supporting hundreds of families with new or young babies aged from newborn to 12 months old, and often helping with their toddlers and older children.

I help parents discover what parenting style they want to use to care for their baby, and offer advice on different approaches that might suit them and their circumstances best.


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