Is your newborn hungry?

Recognising a baby's hunger cues help parents ensure they do not overfeed their child.
Recognising a baby's hunger cues help parents ensure they do not overfeed their child.PHOTO: ST FILE

New parents tend to worry about their baby going hungry and may get formula milk ready just in case the mother's breast milk would not flow.

However, most newborns are generally sleepy in the first 24 hours. They may wake up a few times to nurse but they are usually not very hungry, said Dr Christelle Tan, a specialist in paediatric medicine and consultant at Raffles Specialists' Holland Village centre.

Recognising a baby's hunger cues can also help parents ensure they do not overfeed their child. Studies have found that infants who gained weight rapidly are more likely to be obese during their childhood and beyond.

Generally, mothers are encouraged to start breastfeeding right after delivery. The baby's sucking at the mother's breast helps to stimulate the generation of breast milk and milk flow, said Dr Tan. "After giving birth and in the following two to five days, mothers first produce colostrum, commonly known as 'pre-milk'. This is rich in nutrients and immune system-enhancing factors."

This colostrum is usually sufficient to sustain babies till breast milk production is established.

Thereafter, a baby who is hungry usually displays hunger cues. Examples are sucking his fist, licking his lips, sticking his tongue out, as well as rooting - when the baby makes sucking motions with his mouth near the mother's breast.

This is commonly followed by fidgeting, restlessness and being fussy, said Dr Tan.


Parents should start feeding the baby once they identify early hunger cues. There is no need to wait till the baby starts to cry.

Crying, which is a late hunger cue, can make the feeding process - of either breast or formula milk - more difficult and stressful, said Dr Tan.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2018, with the headline 'Is your newborn hungry?'. Subscribe