Is it hunger or something else?
The best thing to do is to feed them at their first cue.— Laurie Chamberlin, prenatal specialist
Trying to determine what your baby needs is a guessing game that can often end in tears and frustration. How do you know when your baby is hungry? What signs should you look for? This often depends on the child. While no baby is the same, most children do give clues. A subtle tug on the ears might indicate she's sleepy. Grunting sounds may be heard if she needs a diaper change. If the baby is smacking her lips, then she's probably hungry.
The food needs of a baby are instantly met in the womb. After birth, it's up to parents to determine what those needs are and when to provide them.
Katie Smith, from North Yorkshire says her infant son shows physical signs when he's hungry.
"He nurses, and so he turns his head to the side to kind of nurse, even if he sits in the bouncer," she said.
Mum Laura Bedford from Herefordshire says her son also turns his head from side to side. Her son, 15 months old at the time of publication, smacks his lips when he's hungry or wants a bottle.
Older babies will often verbalise their hunger by pointing at food or verbalising words for food or making sounds. Others will lick their lips or their hands.
Prenatal specialist Laurie Chamberlin from Northern California tells new mums and dads to look for these sorts of feeding cues.
If babies are breast-fed, they will also turn their head from side to side in a rooting gesture like they are looking for something. Babies will also fuss and squirm in discomfort. They'll pull at clothes or hit at their mother's chest or arm. The last feeding cue is a cry, Chamberlin said.
"The best thing to do is to feed them at their first cue," Chamberlin said.
It is important to feed before a baby starts to cry because it's easier to latch onto a breast for feeding. If not, your child may not eat at all or get enough of the nourishment he needs during the feeding. Plus, feeding at the first cues starts to build trust between mother and child.
If the crying continues, if your child is inconsolable and rejects a bottle or breast or shows other symptoms such as a high fever or vomiting, the crying may be a sign of pain or illness and parents should follow up with their pediatrician.
Babies also send specific cues if they need their diaper changed. Most babies make tell-tale noises or grunting sounds. If they’ve had a bowel movement, the smell is a dead giveaway. But not all babies will become fussy with a dirty diaper.
“Sometimes if he needs a poo, he’s fussy,” says Sussex-based stay-at-home mum Erica Jones. “I can hear the gas, the grunting.”
Jones is a mother of three with an 8-month-old son. Like many mums, she’s learned on the job.
“Spending quality time with your baby, you get to know them." she said. "Most babies do have signs that are similar, if you watch for those things.”
Most babies need regular naps in the morning or afternoon. A well-rested baby is often a happier and more cooperative baby, Chamberlin said. If a baby gets overtired or fights a nap, it can be more difficult to get him to lie down when he gets older.
Bedford has her baby on a schedule. She knows her son is going to need a nap at 10 am. and 2 pm.
“He rubs his eyes a lot. He grabs our ears," she said. "When he was a tiny baby, it was different. He was whiny and upset because he wanted to be held.”
Other sleep cues include glassy eyes, rubbing eyes, yawning or quieting down or even laying down. Some children will also hug a favourite comfort toy or dummie.
Don't despair if you get the cues wrong, Bedford says. Like many new mums, she reads books and goes online for information when she needs it.
“Don’t feel like you're on your own,” she said. “You learn as you go.”
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