It seems like "Tis the season to be pregnant". I have quite a few friends who are pregnant, and some of them haven't been around babies much. One of them was asking me some basic baby care questions, and of course "How do you know your baby is hungry?" was one of those questions. Glad she asked. Because many people, even those who have been around babies don't know the answer. Or they may answer you by saying "Well, the baby will cry!" or "Look at the clock, how long has it been?".
Babies let us know they are hungry way before they cry. They also let us know they are hungry before the clock might reveal they should. Although most young babies eat every 2.5-3 hours, some eat sooner, especially when going through a growth spurt. Also, formula fed babies tend to not get hungry as quick as breastfed babies because of the calories and contents of formula. The following are some signs the baby may be sending you to let you know it is feeding time:
1. Tries to put fingers, thumb, or fist in his mouth so that he can suck
2. Smacking noises and sucking motions with lips & tongue
3. Fussiness and wiggliness, and eventually flailing limbs if gets too hungry
4. Rooting and if breastfed tries to move toward the breast
5. Fisted hands
6. If the cues are not read and he isn't fed, he will progress to short rhythmical crying. If that is ignored, the crying may progress to an intense waling
Babies need to feel that we meet their most basic of needs. This includes reading the babies signals. Although some parents/caregivers miss hunger signals, other people miss the other signals babies can give us such as when they are bored, over-stimulated, sleeping, or ready to play. A common mistake parents/caregivers make is to feed a baby everytime he cries.
For more detailed information about how to interpret the baby's cries visit http://www.sense-ablebaby.com/. It also includes ways to promote sensory processing in babies.