Understanding Baby Hunger Patterns

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Learn why it is so important to feed your baby at the same times each day while you are establishing a daily schedule or routine.

baby ready to eat and hungry

One of the most important things you can do to get your baby on a consistent schedule is work to have baby eat at the same times day after day.

This can be much easier said than done. Your baby might now wake up when you expect her to. You might not want to wake up in the morning to get baby up at the same time each day.

If you want a predictable routine day after day, however, this is something you need to focus on, work toward, and be willing to sacrifice for.

Consistent Feedings Lead to Consistent Hunger

I remember when I first started high school. Do you know what was one of the hardest things about high school?

Lunchtime.

Why?

Because at our school, we couldn’t all fit in the lunch room, so we had two or three (can’t remember right now) lunch sessions.

We also had alternating schedules, called “A” day and “B” day. Every other day, we had a different schedule. Four classes on A day and four different classes on B day.

We also had the potential to have lunch at different times. I was one who had it that way.

So one day lunch was at 11:30. Another, it wasn’t until 12:30. Talk about difficult for a teenager! There was no consistency to my eating, so my body had no idea what to do.

If you eat at the same time each day, that is the time your body will get hungry.

On Becoming Babywise says,

“…the hunger mechanism (digestion and absorption) operates as if it has a metabolic memory reinforced by routine”.

(page 48)

So if your baby eats at the same times, she will be hungry at the same times.

Why you need to feed baby at the same times daily if you want a consistent schedule

That is why it works to have baby get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

That is why it is worth your efforts to track your schedule each day so you can find patterns in what works and what doesn’t.

That is why you want to work to get waketime length down correctly so you can make sure baby can take great naps.

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There are Exceptions

Granted there are things that can change this focus on consistency.

Think back to being pregnant. There are times when you are hungry all day long. This will be true for a baby, too, as she enters growth spurts.

There also might be times she doesn’t eat well for one meal, in which case she might be hungry sooner than her usual time for the next meal.

>>>Read: Baby Growth Spurts: Everything You Need To Know

Focus on Consistency

Consistency really pays off when you are establishing hunger patterns.

Keep this in mind as you are starting to establish a consistent morning time for baby to wake up.

The recommendation is to keep the time of the first feeding consistent within 30 minutes each day. That means a 30-minute sway total, not 30 minutes in either direction. So from 7:15-7:45 or 7:30-8:00 etc.

Feed baby within this window each morning so she will be hungry at that time each morning.

If baby wakes early from naps, you might wonder what to do. If baby is not hungry, and you do not have a really consistent schedule from day to day yet, then wait to feed baby until the normal feeding time so you can establish that hunger pattern.

>>>Read: What To Do When Baby Wakes Early But Isn’t Hungry

Conclusion

If you are trying to establish a predictable routine, keep this idea in mind. The times you feed baby establish baby’s hunger patterns.

Eating at the same times each day means the child will get hungry at the same times each day. Do watch for growth spurts because they happen often. Feed your baby when your baby is hungry. But when baby isn’t hungry, worked toward that daily consistency.

And don’t worry, once you get baby on a consistent schedule, you can have days where you sleep in without throwing the next month off. You can have some flexibility once you have a solid foundation.

Related Posts

Understanding baby hunger patterns

This post originally appeared on this blog October 2010

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11 thoughts on “Understanding Baby Hunger Patterns”

  1. I had an experience with this problem this weekend actually! We were at a conference and so they had set mealtimes and poor Tobias and I were just dying! We eat lunch at 11:30-12:00pm at home, but they had it scheduled for 1pm, and dinner likewise was about an hour later than usual. Plus I'm pregnant and need a late evening snack because I can't eat large meals or I get sick. There was no snack on the schedule at all. It really reminded me of how easily our bodies can get into a habit (good or bad) of eating at the same time every day, and the importance of schedules being age and situation appropriate. For all the non-pregnant adults their schedule was appropriate, but for a pregnant woman and a toddler it wasn't quite enough so I had to improvise and make snacks in our room at 4pm for Tobias and 10pm for me. But on the other hand, how wonderful that knowing what is usual for a given age range (adults) and situation (healthy, non-pregnant Americans who work 9-5) could equip the planners of the conference to feed everyone right when they'd likely be hungry. To have 30 people fed in a timely manner, never needing to be hungry is really pretty good. And because I knew our personal needs I could plan ahead and assume that Tobias would need an after-nap snack and I would need a late-evening snack in addition to the normal meals provided.

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  2. Hi! So what do you do with a newborn who wakes hungry at 6am one day, 5am the next (it varies each day). Make them wait a little longer til it's closer to 6? Babywise says to always feed a hungry baby, so I'm finding it hard to get into a consistent routine because my baby (4weeks old) is hungry at different times each morning. The same thing goes for throughout the day too- she'll sometimes feed every 2 hours, sometimes every 3, an at different times each day. We have a pattern but no routine *sigh*

    Reply
    • Sarz, it is totally normal to have variance with a newborn. At night, feed when hungry. Stay consistent with what time you start each morning. Do your best to stay at 2.5-3 hours in the day. Have a consistent bedtime. Do those things, along with Eat/wake/sleep, and things will get there. She is still young 🙂

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  3. Our 12 day old son is having similar problems to Sarz (comment above). He eats, is kind of groggy/awake for a little while, then when we put him down seems to grunt and fuss himself to sleep for about 10-15 mins before sleeping, then wakes inconsistently for feedings putting us at an odd schedule every day. After about the 4AM feeding every night he will not go to sleep without serious coddling. Is this normal? The book talks about self-soothing, but I'm not sure they meant doing that for a newborn. Also, slightly diff. subject but is more than 10 wet diapers a day normal? We seem to change constantly. Thank you for your help!

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  4. Hi, I have been reading a number of your articles and have found them wonderfully helpful. Although as it goes with babies none are quite the same! My wonderful daughter has been on a 4 hr feed routine since birth, she gains weight beautifully and is generally a happy baby. I tried adding additional feeds to follow the babywise schedule as we have hit 8 weeks and I would like to encourage her to sleep longer at night but she is fighting against it…all feeds closer than 4 hours she feeds for 10mins then becomes fussy and won't feed so instead of rearranging her feeds and hopefully dropping the MOTN feed she just feeds less more often. Eventually I expect she will drop the feed but 5 feeds a day seems to little for a 8-10 week baby. Do you have any suggestions to change hunger patterns? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Just thought I would update this in case anyone reads it and wants to know the outcome. We stuck with the 4 hour feeds. She started sleeping 10 – 7 about 5 out of 7 nights a week but appeared to need the extra feed every 3 – 4 days. That was until we hit 4 months. I know this is under the wrong blog but I am convinced the 4 month waking is a combination of increased need for calories and need for extra waketime. She is not mobile yet so isn't using enough energy to be physically worn out but emotionally can't have longer waketimes in the day so the night sometimes suffers. Just a thought from the experience.

      Reply
  5. Hi, I recently stumbled upon your blog. I started babywise principles with my son as soon as he was born. He is currently 7 weeks. He did great staying on a 3 hour schedule the first couple weeks (he also spent the second week of his life in the NICU where they kept a tight schedule). However, starting at week 3, he began wanting to eat every two hours on the dot. I intially thought it was a growth spurt, however it hasn't ended. He takes a full feeding each time (4-5 oz) so I know he's not snacking. He was diagnosed with reflux and is on medication. My pediatrician thought he may be eating to soothe from the reflux or suggested that I'm "misreading his hunger cues." But he has now been on reflux medication for over 2 weeks and I really don't think I'm misreading his cues (rooting, fist to face, and he will always take a full feed). I try to stay on an EWS schedule but its hard with such frequent feedings. During the day, I always try to lay him down after some wake time and he has always been good about falling asleep on his own. However, he will need to eat again shortly after I lay him down and then he will finish his nap. At night, he has started going one 4 hour stretch after his bedtime (7pm-11pm), then he'll go a 3 hour stretch and they'll gradually get back to 2 hours and then the day begins. Do you think its something that he will just grow out of with time & his feedings will gradually get further apart? Is there anything I can do to help?

    Reply
    • Sydney, one thing that came toind as I read was I wonder if your milk has a really low fat content in it (if you are breastfeeding)? There are foods you can eat to increase the far content in your milk. You could try feeding him right before a nap. It isn't following ews, but it might help him to take longer naps.

      Reply
  6. Sydney, how many ounces is your sweet one eating in a day?You should check out paced bottle feeding.http://www.motherlove.com/blog/view/feeding-breastmilk-by-bottle-learn-paced-feeding-to-avoid-overfeeding-your-

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  7. Hi Valerie! I was wondering if you had any other tips to go along with the post above from Sydney? I have an 8 week old who is exclusively breastfed that I can not extend feeding time on. For the first 3 weeks, he was on a wonderful 3 hour EWS schedule, and then a growth spurt hit around 3.5 weeks that shifted him to wanting to eat every 2 hours and only taking 45 minute naps. I feel like I've read your blog entries on napping and feeding 100 times and nothing I have tried works to get him to move beyond a 2 hour cycle by even 15 minutes. He gets so worked up when I try to extend that time that he won't take a full feeding because he falls asleep and can't be roused to finished eating, but then wakes 5-10 minutes into a nap. This ends up messing up then entire schedule for the day. I've tried adjusting wake times (shorter and longer), we stick to the exact same nap time routine in a dark and cool room with white noise, and he hates the swing so that hasn't helped to extend naps or keep him calm between feedings. This also has me concerned because I'm not able to store any milk and I have to go back to work in 3 weeks. I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle so any other suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply

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