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Episode 37: Reading Your Infant's Hunger Cues

bodyfeeding breastfeeding postpartum Apr 07, 2022

Learning your infant's early hunger cues ensures you're feeding them often and as soon as they're hungry, and can help you reduce your reliance on the clock. 

Another reason it's important to learn your infant's early hunger cues is that if you wait until a late hunger cue, which - spoiler alert - a late hunger cue is crying - it's often hard to latch a crying baby because they're too upset. They often need help soothing before they can get a good latch. So we want to look for early hunger cues and when you notice them, feed your baby. 

Early Hunger Cues in Newborn Babies:

  • Wiggling their head around.
  • Rooting around and sucking on anything they can find, including your nose or your chin or your finger. 
  • Clenched fists.
  • Sucking on their fists or their hands. 

Just a reminder, and I've been saying this in every video where we talk about postpartum, but really this just goes for parenthood generally: have a lot of compassion for yourself and have a lot of compassion for your infant. Each of you are going through a major learning curve, particularly in this immediate postpartum.

One of you is learning how to eat for the first time ever, while also learning how to breathe, and learning how to be a human in this world. And you, the parent, are learning how to feed an infant maybe for the first time, or even if you've fed other infants you're learning how to feed this exact infant. And every infant is different. So have some compassion for yourself and for your infant.

Full Transcript:

[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to your next episode of the free weekly Brave Journey Birth Preparation videos, where I pick a topic related to birth or postpartum and I talk about it. Today, I'm talking about postpartum infant feeding, and in particular, how to notice early hunger cues in your infant, in your newborn infant, in that immediate postpartum time.

The reason this is important is that if you wait until a late hunger cue, which is, spoiler alert it's crying. It's often hard to latch a crying baby because they're too upset and they often need help soothing before they can get a good latch. So we want to look for early hunger cues, which is what we're going to talk about next.

I'm Cara Lee, I'm a birth doula and a childbirth educator, and let's get started.

First off a recap, or a reminder, I've been saying this in every [00:01:00] video where we talk about postpartum, but really this just goes for parenthood generally: have a lot of compassion for yourself and have a lot of compassion for your infant, because each of you are going through a major, major learning curve, particularly in this immediate postpartum.

One of you is learning how to eat for the first time ever while also learning how to breathe and learning how to be a human in this world. The other one of you is you, the parent are learning how to feed an infant maybe for the first time, or even if you've fed other infants you're learning how to feed this exact infant.

And every infant is different. Different infants, like different holds. They like to eat in different positions. So it really just depends. And you're learning this infant as well. So have some compassion for yourself and for your infant.

Now, like I said, it's really important to recognize early signs of hunger in your infant, because a late sign of hunger and a late hunger cue is crying. Once your newborn infant is crying, they are often too upset to latch. So they often need help soothing, regulating their [00:02:00] little nervous system, they can't really regulate it on their own yet -they need help soothing so that then they can focus on the hard work of latching. Nursing and latching is really hard for your infant, it's their number one job. It's exhausting. And it's a big challenge. Just think of where your infant is at developmentally. So you want to look for early hunger cues to ensure that you're feeding your infant as soon as they're hungry. And again, this goes back to when we talked about establishing your milk supply. In these early weeks postpartum right after your baby's born you want to be emptying your breasts of milk, completely removing all the milk, at least every one to three hours. And that's whether it's through your infant's latch or a pump or hand expression.

So in doing so you're also watching your infant for their hunger cues. In the very first days and week weeks, but usually especially the first week, there's not a steady rhythm to when they're hungry and that's okay. That's normal. Your infant is going through huge amounts of change and development these first weeks.

So your infant may be hungry every one hour for a few hours, every 20 minutes for a few [00:03:00] hours. And then maybe they'll have a stretch of three hours a couple of times in a row. And you really just roll with that, feed your infant when they're hungry and really just emptying your breasts and just make sure it's been at the most, every three hours.

Now, after the first week or two, you'll fall into a rhythm with your infant where your infant will expect to be fed every two to three hours. And that'll become a more normal rhythm for you to, to find your, your rhythm together. But in that first week, you're really feeding quite often, but you're watching their hunger cues. So what are early hunger cues in infants? Early hunger cues look in a newborn infant look like squirming, so wiggling their little bodies around. Rocking their head side to side Rooting. And this is why there's so many funny instances of infants will latch on to anything, the latch onto your nose. They'll latch onto your finger.

It's a, it's a beautiful instinct, right? So they will latch on to anything they'll wash under your chin. So when an infant is rooting, that means that they're moving their mouth towards anything around them and trying to latch on it. That's called [00:04:00] rooting. So as they're moving their head towards anything near their mouth, trying to latch onto it, that's an early sign of hunger.

Another sign of hunger is clenched fists. So you look at your infant's fists and if their fists are clenched and they're wiggling their head side to side, squirming, and maybe rooting that's an early sign of hunger. So you want to respond to these early signs of hunger.

And then the last, in addition to fists clenched fist, there'll be sucking on their fists. So, this is also an early sign of hunger. So you're looking for their head is wiggling around. They're rooting on anything they can find, including your nose or your chin or your finger. If anything touches their cheek, they try to root on it, their hands are clenched and they may be sucking on their fists or their hands. These are early signs of hunger in a newborn infant. So you see these signs and you immediately feed them. Once they are crying, as I mentioned, it's too late. They're so upset. And this isn't every infant, but a lot of infants, particularly newborns need to help soothing. They don't, they cannot regulate their own nervous system. And so you need to often have to soothe them before you can get them calm enough to latch. So you don't want to get to a point where your infant is [00:05:00] crying. You want to feed at those early hunger cues.

Now a few reminders. The first reminder is that, I mentioned this briefly, but the eating is exhausting and tiring for your infant is their primary new job. So they are learning how to do this, but it is tiring so often once you get them latched, for newborn infants, it's not uncommon for them to fall asleep immediately.

This is for two reasons. One, it is so soothing and comforting at your, at your breasts or a bottle . It is just their number one, most soothing place to be. Number two, it's tiring. It takes a tremendous amount of energy. It is exhausting for them to eat. If you think about how small their bodies are and how much is going on, as they're changing and adapting to being out of the womb, eating is very exhausting.

So sometimes you have to gently rub their backs as they nurse. Or gently massage their feet to keep them awake, just to remind them to keep eating until they've finished or have drained, your breasts, or perhaps you, they unlatch. And then you pump or hand express. Second reminder or a tip is that it's really difficult for an infant [00:06:00] has trouble latching to an engorged breast.. So an engorged breast that is so full of milk that it becomes like rock hard. And it's so firm that, it's really difficult for the infant to fully get their mouth around the nipple and then remove milk.

So sometimes when your milk first comes in, you may experience real encouragement. And it'll go down over a few days, but you may have to hand express using your hand, just a few streams of milk, until your breast is a little bit softer to help your infant at a latch. And hand expression is a learned skill. It's, it's weird at first. We're not used to milking ourselves, but it's really a really good, useful skill. It's also helpful if you don't have a pump ready and, or handy, and you're separating from your infant for a period of time when you really need to get some milk out, because it can get very uncomfortable. Um, but hand expression is a useful skill to have, and it's also especially useful in the beginning. You experience more breast encouragement in the beginning when your milk first comes in. And it's really hard for a newborn baby, sometimes, to latch to an engorged breast breasts. So that's just a little tip for you along with these early signs of hunger.

So that's it for [00:07:00] this video on early hunger cues and attending to those, I will see you in the next video.

 

 

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