Learn how to tell the signs of a hungry baby

Read the signs of a very hungry baby or child before its too late

By Matthew Tarkington
Learn how to tell the signs of a hungry baby

Dads aren't born with parental instincts

The baby is crying again. For what reason? I'm not entirely sure, and my guesses have been wrong before. Does she need to be changed? Maybe burped? Could she be hungry? The truth is, if her mother was here, she would know in an instant - from across the room, without even looking at her - but mommy isn't in charge at the moment. Right now it's just me... Daddy.

Have you felt this way before? Don't worry, I sympathize, there were many days that I have been in the same shoes. For some reason, it seems mothers have a certain instinct and known understanding when a child has a need. I am a firm believer that fathers were not born with any instincts when it comes to child-rearing whatsoever (at all).

That means, in order for us to even slightly understand our children we need clues, hints, and tricks to figure the cause of the cry. Consider this your "life-hack" to understanding when your baby needs to be fed.

Hunger is a natural instinct that indicates our bodies need for sustenance. Without regular feedings (for toddlers about every 2 hours or so) our blood sugar drops dramatically and the "hangry" hormone is released in our system (if you're looking for the scientific term it's called Ghrelin).

Obviously, your child has yet to develop the nuances of subtle communication, however, there are several ways to determine if your baby or child is hungry. Ask yourself these questions to determine if it is feeding time.

"Is my child eating his/her fist and smacking their lips?" 

A tell-tale sign of childhood hunger is the desire to place something in their mouth. A fist, a foot, or just licking their lips is a sign that they desire food.

"Is the cry low and whiney?" 

A low pitched, short, repetitive cry is another sign of hunger in a baby. Whereas the high pitched screams are more for signs of severe discomfort, this type of cry is quieter as a request for food before things get out of hand.


"Is he/she opening their mouth when I try to feed them?" 

If your child is hungry, they will seek out the food that is being given them by displaying wide open jaws. A display of willingness to eat is definitely an unmistakable sign for hunger.

How to tell if the baby is hungry while sleeping

Sleeping can seem peaceful until hunger shows up

I get it, sleep is important to you. You haven't gotten this little sleep since finals week in college years ago. In fact, your shut-eye has been close to nothing in the last few months and your exercise apps keep mocking your sleep habits.

The sound from the side of your bed wakes you up from your half slumber - it's not a cry as much as a whine. You look at the phone next to the baby monitor, which glows scathingly at you telling you the time is just past one am. 

Staring at the monitor you realize the sound you heard was your precious young one pleading for your instant attention. At the moment, you're not sure if they are really upset, or just purposely trying to test your resolve in this "parenting" experiment.

There is a temptation to just allow the baby to cry out their discomfort so you can get a few more minutes of shut-eye. The essential problem is that the longer you wait, the more irritable your baby becomes and more difficult it will be to get them to go back to sleep. Honestly, you will hurt your own sleep schedule (if you can call it that) if you don't feed your child when they are noticeably hungry. 

Children show signs of hunger even when they are deep in sleep and being able to mark them will help you take care of the hunger moment, so we all can go back to sleep. Some of those indications are:

Being restless

Tossing and turning while showing signs of discomfort is a good sign that your baby is hungry. Their body can't get into a comfortable sleeping position, because their stomach refuses to let them sleep.


Whining in their sleep

Is your child making short whining sounds? Quiet, yet repetitive sounds of discomfort are an indicator of a desire to feed.

Don't be afraid to wake up your baby and give them the sustenance that they need even though they are sleeping. It will be nearly impossible for them (or you) to continue to rest peacefully when feeling the uneasiness of hunger in their system.

How to tell if the baby is very hungry at night

Nighttime can be difficult

The desire to have the baby to sleep regularly through the night is important, especially your young one reaches about six months of age. However, even during the evening hours hunger can show up unexpectantly. It is always best to satisfy your child's hunger - even when the sun has gone down.

The most evident sign of night hunger is when your child wakes up from sleep

If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, more often than not, they are hungry. Babies eat once every two hours or so and toddlers still have a desire for regular snacks more frequently than adults do. This is due to their constantly growing bodies. For those who are old enough for food other than milk, ensure that you have prepared food ahead of time in case of a hunger attack.

Chewing on objects at night is another sign of a desire to be fed

If your child is chewing on all sorts of objects at night, it may not only be a possible sign of teething, but also a sign of hunger. Children associate their mouths with their hunger being staved, so a desire to place objects near their mouth shows a desire to be fed.

When holding your sleeping child they move toward your chest

The baby knows instinctively to reach for the chest to be fed. They don't care who is holding them or how they are going to get sustenance, they just want the food to be given to them. If the baby purposely leans toward your chest trying to latch on, you have a hungry baby.

Is the baby still hungry after being fed

Are they done yet? Should I keep giving them more? Usually, they only have four or five spoonfuls, but it seems like they could continue eating. Even when feeding a child it is difficult to tell if they have had enough, or still need more to satisfy their appetite. Thankfully, babies show very clear signs of their desire to continue eating.

The baby is stretching toward the spoon

If the baby is straining the direction of the utensil that you are feeding them with, they are telling you that their belly is not yet satisfied. Try to give them a few more spoonfuls.


The baby cries for more

If you stop feeding and the baby is crying for more, their hunger has not been staved. They need more food. Your child is growing and many times needs more food than you realize.

The baby is still eating at a fast pace

If the baby is continuing to eat in a frenzied way, they are most likely still excited and desiring to continue to eat. Many times babies will flail their arms and bodies while eating, showing their exuberance at the sensation of stopping the hunger in their system.


Learn to tell if your child is full

Is the baby finally satisfied?

Think, for a moment, how you act and feel after you have eaten a large, filling meal. You smile more, you become a bit lethargic and even place your utensils down on the table indicating you have eaten all that you possibly could. In many ways, your baby reacts the same. When your baby has finally eaten enough you will notice marked differences in their behavior and demeanor indicating that they are happy and satisfied.


The baby is slowing down their slurping 

When your baby slows down the pace at which they are eating, you can be sure they are nearly done with food for the moment. 


The baby is starting to have a calm attitude (the food "comatose")

When the baby has eaten enough, a happy calm comes to them. Sometimes there is a smile, and at other times, just simply a satisfied demeanor is shown in their appearance. This more relaxed appearance gives you a sign that they are done eating.


The baby is no longer crying or frustrated 

When the whining and cues for hunger seem to stop you can be sure that the child has become full and is no longer in a need for more food.

The baby is turning their head away from the food

Another easy sign that your child is noticeably full is when given the opportunity to eat another spoonful of food, your baby purposely closes their mouth and turns away from the food item. 


A hungry baby is a healthy baby

In order to help your child from becoming too hungry, plan meals and snacks throughout the day. Even though at many times it is difficult to schedule meals at the same time, at least purpose to have two simple snacks in between large meals.

Make sure all of your snacks and meals are full of nutritious protein and fiber. Not only are these necessary for the growth of young ones, but fiber and protein make us feel full for longer periods of time.

A word of advice, do not get upset at your child because they are hungry. That hunger tells you that your child is healthy and growing. Besides, there is no greater feeling than seeing the satisfied smile of your little one because you cared enough to take care of their needs.