How To Distinguish Whether Your Baby Is Hungry, Or Just Needs To Cry

How To Distinguish Whether Your Baby Is Hungry, Or Just Needs To Cry

It is not always easy to distinguish between hunger and a need to cry. Every baby is different and each mother must learn to interpret her own baby's signals. Nevertheless, there are a few guidelines for determining whether or not your baby really needs to nurse.

One guideline that you can use is the amount of time since the previous feeding, provided your baby has taken a full feeding and sucked at both breasts, which can take a half hour or more. If your baby then begins to cry less than 2 1/2 hours after the beginning of the feeding, she is not likely to be hungry again so soon. Perhaps she just wants to be held and to interact socially with you. If you suspect that she might need to cry, then holding her without nursing her will allow her to do so.

The time periods between feedings normally increase as babies grow older, because their stomachs can hold more milk. If your baby seems to want to nurse more frequently rather than less frequently as she grows older, this could be an indication that she has a backlog of crying to do, and is beginning to use nursing as a control pattern.

However, it could also be an indication that she is having a growth spurt, is not getting sufficient milk, or is ready for solid foods if she is over four months of age. She could also be thirsty because of hot weather, or prefer small, frequent feedings because of illness. Some babies are "grazers," perhaps due to a small stomach. They do not take in very much milk at each feeding, and may need more frequent feedings.

As a general guideline, however, a normal, healthy baby who is at least one month old does not need to nurse more often than eight to ten times in a 24-hour period, provided she is allowed to suck as long as she wants at both breasts at each feeding. Any fussiness in between feedings is probably not caused by hunger, and may indicate a need to cry.

Another guideline is the type of crying. A true hunger cry does not usually begin as a cry at all, but rather as grunts of discomfort or a whine. It builds up to a full-blown cry only if the baby is not fed. This makes sense because hunger is not something that happens suddenly, but rather gradually, beginning as a mild urge.

Some parents never hear a true hunger signal because they never wait until their baby is hungry before feeding her. If your baby is crying loudly and vigorously in your arms, and it has been less than 2 1/2 hours since a full feeding, it is probably not a hunger cry.

A third guideline is to observe your baby's behavior carefully after you offer your breast. If she does not latch on eagerly, she is probably not really hungry. If she does begin to suck, but soon starts crying again, this may be an indication that she is not really hungry, but needs to cry instead. There is no point in trying to insist that your baby nurse. Instead, you can continue to hold her and pay attention to her.

Some mothers overlook their baby's cues when the baby does not really want to nurse, and they keep trying to offer their breast. If babies could talk at those times, they would probably say, "Please stop trying to put that in my mouth. I need you to pay attention to me so I can have a good cry!" (Note that crying after starting to nurse can be an indication of nursing problems, such as choking on too much milk, difficulties in getting milk out of the breast, or difficulty breathing through the nose. Be sure to check into these reasons first.)

Other possible signals of a need to cry include squirming, kicking, biting, grunting, or sucking sporadically and irregularly while nursing. A baby who is truly hungry and ready to nurse will do so calmly (unless it is hard for her to breathe, suck, or swallow, or unless there is a lot of noise or other distractions).

If your baby is not nursing calmly because of accumulated tensions, removing her from the breast and holding her lovingly will allow her to do the crying she needs to do. This crying will then be followed by calm sucking, sleep, or happy alertness.