How Do I Know My Baby’s Hunger Cues?

Let’s talk about hunger cues. I may piss some people off with this, but this is a massive contributor to a mom’s anxiety, especially with a baby who has bottle aversion.

Imagine this common scenario.

The baby is putting her hand in her mouth. Mom goes online to find out what it means. She finds out that’s a hunger cue. Mom tries to feed the baby. Baby refuses to eat. Mom freaks out and pressures the baby to feed because she KNOWS (from the Internet) the baby is hungry.

In reality, the baby may be sleepy or just wanting some comfort, and of course, it could also mean she is hungry. But how do you know which one is it? The answer is, you don’t. But most of the time, when we want to feed our baby, we become 100 % sure it means our baby is hungry. It’s wishful thinking.

Suppose your baby has a bottle aversion and drives you crazy that she shows hunger cues but not eating.

In that case, I suggest forgetting everything you know about your baby.

Think about her as a clean slate. And imagine you have no access to the Internet. And none of your friends have babies, and your mom and mom-in-law can’t talk to you for a while because they are on vacation with no phone. So what you have left is your baby and you and your partner. Let’s assume your partner is supporting you and helping you. So there are the 2 of you and your baby.

Your baby came with an innate ability to know how much nutrition she needs. She can’t mislead you, as she has no conscious thoughts yet.

The only thing you can do with no internet and friendly advice from friends and family members is pay attention to this magical creature in front of you. She has minimal ability to communicate, but she CAN communicate. Your job is to figure out what she is trying to say.

You can only do that by paying attention to her and not mind read what she wants. Let’s say she puts her hand in her mouth. You offer milk, and she doesn’t eat it. She was not hungry. Then you hold her for a while, and she is relaxing. She needed some comfort.

I was absolutely sure that my baby was hungry when she did this. I was wrong. It led me to overfeed her and pressure her, and in the end, causing her to have a bottle aversion.

You experiment each time you see something that may indicate that your baby needs something. It can’t be too many things. The most typical needs are feeding, sleeping, comforting, diaper change.

So what to do when your baby has a bottle aversion, and you have no idea of her hunger cues?

Feed on a schedule. Start with a number, like every 3 or 4 hours, and go from there. If you do 3 hours and your baby keeps refusing the bottle every 3 hours, then try 3.5 hours, then 4 hours, and so on until you find the right schedule for your baby.

I’m not against feeding on demand; I think it’s a great thing. But when your baby has a feeding aversion and your anxiety is through the roof, being confused about hunger cues adds to the stress. And a mom who is too anxious cannot solve her baby’s bottle aversion because it’s almost impossible not to pressure her baby to feed.

In my experience, it’s best to feed your baby on a schedule until you find the precise hunger cues.

You can also teach your baby to say she is hungry. I taught my daughter to show the “milk” sign in sign language. She learned it in about a month; she was less than 6 months old. This removed all the confusion.

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