Is My Baby Waking From Hunger?

– Written by JoAnna Inks 

Toddler with blueberries - JoAnna Inks Sleep Solutions

It’s June, glorious June!  My kiddos are out of school, and we get a reprieve from the daily grind of the school schedule.  Woohoo!

Today’s post is for all of the moms out there that wonder night after night if their baby is waking out of hunger or habit.  It’s important to know the difference because a baby waking from hunger NEEDS a feed and a baby waking out of habit does not.

We all want to make sure that our babies are adequately nourished and do whatever it takes to get this done.  Anyone that’s a mom can undoubtedly tell you that kids are intelligent and VERY clever. Almost all children will find ways to get what it is they want and repeat it relentlessly.

We can’t really blame them, because they have instincts just like we do.  They quickly find out what they like and babies, they like mom.


Mom all the time!  You are to your baby what Pinterest is to middle-aged homeowners.  Too much of a good thing is NEVER enough.

And, they only have one way to communicate if mom’s not around and they want her:  They fire up their lungs & cry.

Sometimes it’s not JUST because they want mom.  They cry because they have a dirty diaper, they’re hot, they’re cold, they’re uncomfortable and, last but not least, they cry because they’re hungry!

It can be tricky to determine in the middle of the night whether a baby needs to eat or whether they just want mom back in the room.

I’d be the last person to tell you not to respond to your baby’s crying.  As the parent, you know your baby better than anybody else, and you’re most likely so in tune you can tell what needs to be addressed by decibel level, intensity, pitch and duration of crying!

That being said, if your baby is up 7 times every night insisting that you come in and “help” her back to sleep, that’s having a severe impact on everyone’s sleep, including hers!

A lot of babies I work with have developed a dependency on being “helped” to sleep by rocking, nursing, bouncing, jiggling, and a host of other outside influences to get to sleep.  Teaching a baby not to need outside “help” to get to sleep isn’t an issue that is easily overcome. It’s going to take work and commitment from you as the parent. But, we can talk more about that in a minute.

We still need to figure out if your baby is hungry in the night when they wake.  

So, here it goes.

Is baby 6 months or older?

Until about 6 months, babies need at least one-night feed.  Their tummies are tiny, they often aren’t taking much in the way of solids, and breastmilk and formula digest pretty quickly.  Munchies in the night are indeed understandable.

This isn’t always the case.  When I work with a baby from birth, 99.9% of the time they’re sleeping through the night WAY before 6 months.  With the development of good sleep skills at an early age, they tend to eat well during the day and a night time feed isn’t necessary.

But, a good rule is if your baby is under 6 months, you may be summoned for a feed in the night, and that’s okay.


When we pull night feeds, we want to make sure that baby has the opportunity to make up those calories during the day.  A breastfed baby may spend a bit of extra time at a few feeds and if your baby is bottle fed then adding an ounce or two to each bottle throughout the day can help them make up those calories.  Trust me – when you pull night feeds a baby takes daytime feeds MUCH more seriously. They always make up the calories.

This is a great time to introduce some solids as well.

In my experience, a baby has adjusted to no feeds in the night and is making up calories during the day in a few short days.

Super Important:  Nighttime sleep is, but calories are as well.  If your little one is underweight or not growing as fast as they should, it wouldn’t be a great time to pull night feeds so a chat with your pediatrician is a good idea.


Does this sound familiar?  Your baby wakes 45 minutes after you put her down, you go in, offer a feed which she gladly accepts only to fall asleep after about 3/4 of an ounce?

If this is happening, you can be quite confident that your baby is feeding for comfort and not hunger.  Hungry babies will eat until they’re full. And, a baby that is comfort feeding tends to drift off quickly once they’ve gotten what they’re looking for.


If a baby takes a good, full feed at night, then she should be able to go 4-6 hours without a feed.  At 6 months, a baby’s sleep cycle is 45-60 minutes so if they’re waking up around that long after they eat over and over, it’s very likely that they’re dependent on the sucking and soothing that goes on during the feed to get them back to sleep.


This one is HUGE.  I’ve been working with a 3-month old that was waking too early in the night, and I knew he could do better.  We didn’t offer a feed at that wake up for 2 nights and guess what? He stopped waking there and is now sleeping 7-8 hour stretches before is 1 feed of the night.

The point is that falling asleep while you’re genuinely hungry is hard for anyone, regardless of how old you are.  Your brain knows hunger and treats it as a priority. You’ll stay awake until you eat or after a LONG time the need to sleep will finally override the need to eat, and you’ll fall asleep.

If your baby is truly hungry, they won’t go back to sleep after 10-15 minutes of protest.  If they do fall back to sleep after a bit of protest that’s a huge sign that they were just looking for some “help” getting back to sleep and true hunger isn’t an issue.


And here comes the most critical component to it all!

Can your baby fall asleep without help from you?

Do you put your baby down in her crib while she’s still awake and she makes the entire journey from awake to asleep on her own?  No rocking, no pacifier, no outside assistance?

If you can answer yes to this, then those night time wake ups are more likely to mean she genuinely needs a hand with something in the night.

Trying to determine if your baby is hungry at night is complicated.  Calories are important but so is sleep! We often end up a bit paralyzed trying to balance the importance of the two.

This balance becomes much easier when a baby can fall asleep without any “help” from you.  If the habit of feeding to sleep is not there, you can be more confident that their demands in the night are out of necessity and not just a way to get them back to sleep.

And, as always, if you’re looking for some help teaching your little one those essential sleep skills, I’ve got you covered.

You can book a complimentary discovery call today so that we can get your little one sleeping through the night in a few short nights.

Here’s to a well-rested family!