Hunger Cues | How To Tell Your Baby is Hungry

Baby Hunger Cues, Baby with mouth open showing she is hungry

Why is it important to know your baby’s hunger cues? 

Understanding your baby’s signals helps you know when and how often to feed her. Newborn babies have tiny tummies and need to eat often. An average of 8 – 12 feedings in a 24 hour period is expected and necessary. A couple of those feedings will be overnight. By paying attention to indications of hunger you can feed your baby while she is still calm. This makes meal time easier and helps your child develop healthy eating habits.

Feeding your baby when they show early cues satisfies your baby’s hunger and thirst, keeps your breast milk supply up for those who are breastfeeding, and lets your baby know you are there when they need you. As you get to know your baby you will become more familiar with exactly what this looks like for her. Learning these cues is helpful to avoid a fussy and unhappy baby.

What are the cues that your baby is hungry? 

Babies are proficient in conveying their needs without words. Hungry babies will show signs well before they begin to cry. Watching for and responding early to your baby’s hunger cues may help prevent further stress for both of you. 

Below are hunger cues your baby may show when they are a newborn to 5 months old. As your child gets older and learns new ways of communicating, the signs they show for hunger and fullness may change and develop. 

Hunger cues: 

  • Awaken from sleep, becoming more alert and active  
  • Smacking or licking lips and making sucking sounds
  • Sticking tongue out 
  • Opening and closing mouth 
  • Clenched hands
  • Putting hands or fists to their mouth
  • Chewing or sucking on their hand or anything nearby
  • Head turning from side to side with a wide-open mouth looking for the breast or bottle, also known as rooting. 
  • Fidgeting or squirming around 
  • Fussing or breathing fast 
  • Crying

The American Academy of Pediatrics (the professional organization that informs pediatricians on what is good practice) states that crying is  – “a late indicator of hunger” and parents are encouraged to feed their babies before they get to this point.  

A baby that is hungry but not yet frantic is going to more easily take the breast if you are breastfeeding. In contrast a baby who is upset and crying has a more difficult time settling down, latching on, and feeding well. 

If you missed your baby’s cues before she cries, you don’t need to beat yourself up. This is all new and you are learning together. Spend some time skin to skin with your baby to help soothe her. After some cuddle time you can then try feeding her once she is a bit calmer. As time goes on you will get better and better at reading and understanding your baby’s silent signals. 

What are the signs that your baby is full? 

Of course, you will want to let your baby eat until they are full and satisfied. Therefore it is equally important and helpful to know the signs that your baby is done eating: 

  • Start and stop feeding often
  • Baby releases or “falls off” your breast 
  • Closes their mouth
  • Spit out or ignore the breast or bottle
  • Turns away from your nipple or the bottle
  • Relaxes their body and opens their fists
  • Slows down or falls asleep

If you are breastfeeding and your baby still seems hungry you can offer both breasts for feeding. Depending on how hungry they are, some babies may eat from both sides at each feeding. Others may eat from only one side and this can change from time to time. 

So there you have it, the language of your baby’s hunger cues. Mastering this code will not only help you keep your baby content but also deepen the bond between you. Happy feeding, and remember, when in doubt, follow the cues!

Also check out: Breast Milk: Is My Baby Getting Enough?

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading