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Your Baby’s Hunger Cues: How To Identify Them?

Team AckoFeb 9, 2024

Your baby hunger cues are your baby’s way of communicating with you. This is her non-verbal language that she uses to tell you about her needs. It might take you a few weeks to understand your baby’s cues but as time passes you will be able to recognise each cue easily. By careful baby-watching, it becomes easier for you to identity baby cues. You will be startled by how your baby tries to talk to you in different and smart ways. 



A common question that arises in your mind, especially if you are a first-time-mum is how often to feed your baby. The simple answer to this is your baby will tell you when she’s hungry. Baby hunger cues help you understand her needs. Instead of calculating her feeding times and maintaining a schedule, just pay attention to your baby’s behaviour and her hunger cues.

Your baby’s hunger cues

Your baby will give you a lot of subtle hunger cues when she is ready for her feed. It is your job to identify them and prevent her from crying. Some of the common hunger cues are:

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 he is looking for something. This movement is called rooting reflex. During the first weeks of birth, when you stroke your baby’s cheek, she turns toward the breast or bottle, as a natural reflex. She makes sucking motions with the mouth. Rooting turns into a voluntary action after babies turn 4 months old.

Active hunger cues

• Trying to get into feeding position by pulling on your clothes.

• Turning the head towards the chest of the one carrying the baby.

• Increased leg and arm movement.

• Breathing fast or fussing.

• Squirming or fidgeting.

• Waking up from sleep and falling asleep again in quick successions.

• Displaying discomfort, making whining sounds, and grunts.

• Hitting on your chest or arm constantly.

• Rapid eye movement while sleeping. It is a good time to feed a sleepy newborn if she has not been fed in a while.

• A hungry baby may continue showing interest in sucking even after finishing the first bottle or first breast. It indicates that the little one wants more.

• Babies older than 4 months may even smile while breastfeeding, indicating their interest in continuing.

Late hunger cues

• Moving the head frantically from one side to another.

• Crying is the last sign. A hunger cry is usually low-pitched, short, and rises and falls.

Crying is a late hunger cue. If you fail to recognize her subtle hunger cues, she will make sure you get it by crying out loud and yelling. When you repeatedly wait until your young baby cries (sometimes it is unavoidable), you can set yourself on a path to unnecessary feeding problems.

If you manage to calm your baby after she cries, she will start feeding. As she is exhausted after crying incessantly, she will suck in only little. Hence, it won’t be long before her little tummy gets empty. You should be ready for her next feed.

Read tips on building your baby's communication skills

Benefits of following your baby’s hunger cues

Instead of feeding your child randomly based on time gaps, it is always good to look for the cues she gives. It will benefit you in more than one of these ways:

• Helps you get to know your baby well.

• Ensures smooth breastfeeding.

• Satisfies the little one’s hunger and thirst.

• Encourages your baby to trust you.

• Gives you confidence.

• Builds a positive feeding relationship between you and the baby.

• Keeps up the milk supply.

Check out: Tips to help your baby with non verbal communication 

Your baby’s hunger cues: How to know when your baby is full?

As your baby’s tummy is very small, it gets full by a small amount of food. So she gives you cues when she is satisfied or full. Fullness cues include: 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, and spits out the nipple or food. A baby older than 4 months may start looking around and seem distracted.

As a mother, you try to figure out the different cues given by your little one. To recognise your baby’s hunger cues and fullness cues is very important. If the cues from the babies are neglected, they are likely to get confused about their hunger and fullness. It may lead to preferences for unhealthy diet and further, childhood obesity. 

It is absolutely normal for you to not be able to recognise baby cues. It is unavoidable. It can be unclear and confusing at times. Different babies have different hunger cues. This is why it becomes difficult for you, even after reading the above content. Staying with your baby all the time and watching her carefully will help you identify these signs better. Skin-to-skin contact helps you learn your baby’s feeding cues quickly. Using trial and error method will help you to recognise which cue is for which need of hers. 

Once you learn this art, you will become attuned to your baby. She will learn special cues just to communicate with you and make you understand. She will try to talk to your partner in a different ways. That is why, you and your partner should work as a team to identify your baby’s hunger cues and act accordingly.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, based on industry experience and secondary sources. It is not a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert for health or insurance-related decisions. Content is subject to change, refer to current policy wordings for specific ACKO details.



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