Baby’s Hunger Cues: How To Identify Them?

Most new moms may ask themselves, “Is my baby hungry?” and “What is a good time to feed my baby?” Finding the answer to all of these questions is easy. With a bit of research, you will be able to identify the baby hunger cues your little one gives out to let you know they are hungry.

So, rather than worrying about when to feed your baby or how much to feed your baby, it’s a good idea to feed your baby only when they are hungry. Keep an understanding on your baby’s behavior by considering the hunger cues we’ve mentioned in this article.

Different Baby Hunger Cues

Most parents think that crying is a hunger signal. But it is a late hunger cue. The baby shows many more cues early on. By utilizing your maternal instinct to identify these early cues, feeding your child will become a smoother process.

Below is a list of baby hunger cues that should look for (1) (2) (3).

Early Hunger Cues

Early Hunger Cues
  • Licking lips or smacking is the first sign of hunger.
  • Sucking on hands, lips, toes, clothes, toys, and fingers.
  • Opening and closing the mouth.
  • Sticking the tongue out.
  • Moving the head from side to side as if looking for something. This movement is called the rooting reflex. During the first weeks of birth, when you stroke the baby’s cheek, the baby turns toward the breast or bottle, as a natural reflex. They make sucking motions with their mouths. Rooting turns into a voluntary action after the babies turn four months old.
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Active Hunger Cues

Active Hunger Cues
  • Trying to get into a feeding position by pulling on your clothes.
  • Turning the head towards the chest of the one carrying the baby.
  • Increased agitation involving leg and arm movement.
  • Breathing fast or fussing.
  • Exhibiting restlessness through squirming or fidgeting.
  • Experiencing sleep disturbance characterized by repeatedly waking up and falling asleep in quick succession.
  • Displaying irritability through whining sounds, grunts, and discomfort.
  • Hitting on your chest or arm constantly.
  • A hungry baby may continue showing interest in sucking even after finishing the first breast. It indicates that the little one wants more.
  • Babies older than four months may even smile while breastfeeding, indicating their interest in continuing.

Late Hunger Cues

Late Hunger Cues
  • Moving the head frantically from one side to the other.
  • Crying is the last sign.
  • Calm down the crying baby before feeding. Offer skin-to-skin contact first, and then start feeding when they are relatively calm.

Here are the hunger cues to note (3):

Approximate Age Hunger cues
0-5 months
  • Puts hands to mouth.
  • Turns head towards breast or bottle.
  • Puckers, smacks, or licks lips.
  • Has clenched hands.
6 to 23 months
  • Reaches for or points to food.
  • Opens his or her mouth when offered a spoon or food.
  • Gets excited when he or she sees food.
  • Uses hand motions or makes sounds to let you know he or she is still hungry.

Source: CDC

Benefits Of Following Hunger Cues

Instead of feeding your child randomly based on time gaps, it is always good to look for the cues they give, whether you are formula feeding or breastfeeding. It will benefit you in more than one of these ways (4):

  • Helps you get to know your baby well.
  • Ensures smooth breastfeeding.
  • Satisfies the little one’s nutrition and hydration needs.
  • Encourages your baby to trust you.
  • Gives you confidence.
  • Builds a positive feeding relationship between you and the baby.
  • Keeps up the milk supply.
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How Often Should A Newborn Feed On Breast Milk?

In the initial days, newborns do not require much milk to feel full as they have tiny stomachs. They may express the need to feed as frequently as every one to three hours. On average, babies must be fed approximately eight to 12 times within a 24-hour period. In addition, regular feeding can help maintain your milk supply and provide your baby with sucking and swallowing practice.

As the baby grows, most exclusively breastfed infants feed every two to four hours. However, there could be instances when babies may exhibit hunger cues as often as every hour. This pattern is known as cluster feeding and is considered normal baby behavior (more common in breastfed infants than formula-fed ones). Cluster feeding typically occurs when there is an increased demand for calories and is often associated with a growth spurt (5) (6).

How To Know When Your Baby Is Full?

How To Know When Your Baby Is Full

Once your baby is full and satisfied, they show signs that it is done. Satiety cues include (3):

  • Closing lips
  • Turning the head away from the food source
  • Stopping or slowing down sucking (if the baby is breastfeeding)
  • Falling asleep, looking calm and relaxed
  • Spits out the nipple or solid foods

A baby older than four months may start looking around and seem distracted.

Babies may try to signal their hunger in multiple ways. Since each baby is unique, their appetite may be communicated differently. Hence, you may miss some baby hunger cues at times. However, don’t fret about it since with time and practice in parenting, you will be able to comprehend and recognize your baby’s cues better. Usually, constant crying is a late hunger cue. You may try soothing techniques such as skin-to-skin contact to aid in learning your baby’s feeding cues quickly. Slowly figuring out your little one’s hunger cues will help keep them full and well-nourished.

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Key Pointers

  • Babies show early hunger cues such as licking lips or smacking, sucking, opening and closing the mouth, and sticking the tongue out when hungry.
  • Increased leg and arm movement, fussiness, squirming or fidgeting, displaying discomfort, making whining sounds, and grunts are active hunger cues.
  • Late hunger cues include frantically moving the head from one side to the other and crying.
  • Turning the head away from the food source, stopping or slowing down sucking, falling asleep, and spitting out the nipple or food indicates that the baby is full.

Learn effective strategies to recognize your baby’s hunger and fullness cues, enabling you to create a healthy feeding schedule. Enhance your ability in understanding their signals and make well-informed choices.

Article written by Baby Plumbing

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