Baby Hunger Cues: How to Spot When Its Feeding Time

Baby Hunger Cues: How to Spot When Its Feeding Time

Newborns tend to have unpredictable feeding patterns. And if you are a new parent, you may be wondering when to feed your baby, how often to do it, and how much they need feeding.

Fortunately, babies usually portray simple cues that can help you know when to feed them. Still, learning these cues may take some time, especially in the first few months. Here’s everything you need to pay attention to.

Feeding Frequency

Before delving into the various signs that show your baby is hungry, you have to first understand how often he or she needs to feed. This will help you know when to keep a lookout for hunger cues.

On average, most newborns feed about eight to 12 times daily. That means every two to three hours, your baby will most likely signal the need to feed. While feeding will, in most cases, depend on the developmental stage and readiness of your baby, here are some of the signs that indicate they are hungry.

The Different Types of Baby Hunger Cues

Babies have a series of cues for hunger. These can be grouped into early cues, active cues, and late cues. The cues will change depending on whether you ignore or feed them.

Early Hunger Cues

Some common early hunger cues include opening the mouth while sticking the tongue out, licking or smacking lips, and sucking on pretty much anything they can reach, including their lips, fingers, tongue, hands, and even toys.

However, worth noting is that lip smacking and licking doesn’t always mean your little one is hungry. In some cases, especially if they do this after breastfeeding or other feeding, it may instead be a sign that you need to burp them.

Burping Tips

Babies often swallow air while feeding. Burping them helps clear that air and prevents them from spitting up or becoming gassy and squirmy. Here are some quick burping methods you may find useful.

  • Upright burping: while sitting upright, hold the baby against your chest and make sure their chin rests upon your shoulder. You can support the baby with one hand and gently pat on their back repeatedly.
  • Burping with the baby lying on their belly: with this technique, simply lay your baby across your knees or on your lap, ensuring the baby is on his or her belly. Make sure your baby’s head is higher than their chest and gently pat on their back.

Just like lip-smacking and licking, sucking doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is hungry, though. At around six or so weeks, your baby will start gaining a little bit of control over their hands and will begin exploring them using their mouth, among other things.

Also, when your baby’s gums prepare for tooth eruption, they will become tender and it’s common for most babies to suck on their hands or fingers during this stage.

Active Hunger Cues

If you ignore or miss the early signs that your baby is hungry, he or she will become more active in their cues. Here’s what to look for.


Rooting is one of the most common active cues of a hungry baby. It is a newborn reflex that happens when your baby moves his or her head or mouth towards a certain stimulus.

You will notice this when you touch your baby’s lips or cheeks. The baby will open his or her mouth and sometimes put their fist or fingers into their mouth. In most cases, this will happen on the chest of whoever is carrying the baby.

In fact, this rooting reflex may come in handy when it comes to latching on. A good latch is essential in ensuring your baby gets enough milk while breastfeeding. And all you need to do when you are ready to breastfeed is to stroke your baby on their lip or cheek, then latch him or her onto your breast when they open their mouth.


Restlessness is another active hunger sign to watch out for. Some of the things to watch out for in this regard include fidgeting, wiggling around, fussing, and squirming. Your baby may also move their head from side to side.

Increased arm and leg movement, trying to get into feeding positions (usually by pulling on your clothes), and turning heads towards your chest (or towards the chest of the person holding him or her) are also other active hunger cues to be aware of.

Late Hunger Cues

a tired baby crying

If you still haven’t fed your baby after all these signs, you will most likely have to deal with a baby who is moving their head frantically from side to side, fussing around, and in most cases, crying.

Crying tends to be the most common cue, but it can be hard to feed your little one at this point because you will need to calm them first. Keep in mind, however, that while it’s a hunger cue among babies, crying generally also indicates discomfort. Therefore, before you rush to feed your crying baby, check on some of these:

  1. Do they need a pacifier?
  2. Are they sleepy?
  3. Do they need a diaper change?
  4. Are they uncomfortable? (check whether they are dressed appropriately, i.e., not too cold or hot, whether they have a fever, etc.)

The Age of Your Baby

You may very well learn to identify your baby’s cues, but it can take a couple of months before getting the hang of it. Plus, hunger cues change as your baby develops. Another helpful way to consider these cues is by the age of your child.

For a quick go-to, here’s a handy list of the most common hunger cues, sorted by age:

  • 0-5 months: sucking, crying, fussing, and repeated mouth opening
  • 5-6 months: crying, gazing at you, smiling or cooing during feeds, moving their hand towards the spoon
  • 6-9 months: pointing to or reaching towards food
  • 9-11 months: pointing to or reaching towards food and getting visibly excited when food is presented
  • 10-12 months: asking for specific foods with pointing, sounds, or full words

Subtle Baby Hunger Cues

Hunger cues from your newborn or infant aren’t always clear-cut. Most newborns tend to sleep a lot. And in most cases, you may not be able to identify hunger cues from a sleeping baby.

Since you need to feed them every two to three hours, but they end up sleeping for five or more, you may have to wake them up for feedings. Doing this, however, isn’t always straightforward.

You need a few tricks up your sleeve because feeding a sleepy baby can be very challenging! To help you, here are a few strategies you can employ:

  • Try removing your baby’s blankets or undressing them. It helps make them feel a little uncomfortable, which can, in turn, wake them up. However, don’t keep them uncovered for long, especially if you’re in a cold room, as babies tend to lose heat rather quickly.
  • Talking to and touching your baby while they are sleeping can also help ease them out of their sleep. When touching your baby, try to gently rub on their back, arms, and legs, or tickle their feet.
  • Changing their diapers might also do the trick as the movement involved is often enough to get them up.
  • Use a wet washcloth. Gently use it to wipe your baby’s face – this will work in most cases because of the temperature change and sensation of water.

PRO-TIP: while using a pacifier is often recommended, especially for breastfed babies, don’t use it at least for the first one month or so. Pacifiers may keep your baby sleeping longer, preventing you from realizing that they are hungry and need to be fed.

Cues That Your Baby Is Full

Has my baby fed well enough? As a new parent, it is one of the questions you may be struggling with. And while being able to identify your baby’s hunger cues is essential to their feeding, knowing when they are full is equally important.

You don’t want to overfeed your little one just because you misinterpreted their signals. Some of the signs to watch out for include:

  1. Closing Mouth: This is one of the most common ways your baby will show you they are full. Usually, once the little one zips their lips, they will also be unresponsive to any encouragement to latch on. At this point, it’s best to stop the feeding.
  2. Pulling Away: You may also notice your baby turning their head away from the spoon, bottle, or breast.
  3. Decreased or Halted Sucking: Some babies will stay latched on to the nipple but will stop sucking. This is a cue that they are full, and you should end the session but remember to do so gently.
  4. Shifted Interest: If your baby shifts their interest from eating to the surroundings (noticeable when they start looking around distractedly), it’s probably time to end the feeding.
  5. Spitting: One of the most obvious signs of a baby that’s full. In most situations, your baby will be drowsy afterward and may even fall asleep.

The Benefits of Learning Your Baby’s Hunger Cues

Knowing when to feed your newborn comes with many benefits besides ensuring he or she doesn’t stay hungry or develop complications and can help you and your child stay healthy and foster a good relationship between the two of you. With that in mind, here are some of the top benefits of following your baby’s hunger cues.

Understanding Your Baby

Babies have different feeding patterns. And while you may have read about feeding patterns beforehand or talked to other parents about feeding, your baby may exhibit a totally different pattern. Typically, it can be a bit overwhelming and frustrating during the first few weeks, trying to figure out your baby’s feeding pattern.

Following their hunger cues can make this a little easier for you. You will begin understanding your baby well and responding to them well in time.

Keeping a Good Milk Supply

Following your little one’s hunger cues also allows you to feed your baby only when it’s necessary. If you are breastfeeding, this is particularly important as it gives your body enough time as well as energy to not only produce milk but also maintain proper supply.

Besides nursing your baby on demand, other tips that can help boost your milk supply include breast massaging when nursing your baby, drinking and eating enough food throughout the day, offering both sides while nursing, and getting enough rest.

Smooth Breastfeeding Experience

Breastfeeding doesn’t always go smoothly, particularly in the first few weeks. And part of the reason this happens is a failure to follow your baby’s cues. Cues on when the baby is full play a more significant role here. If you can’t tell when your baby is full, you will end up overfeeding him or her.

Enhanced Relationship With Your Baby

Understanding your baby’s cues and following them can also help build your relationship with the little one. First, he or she will start trusting you and growing closer to you as you continue developing a deeper understanding of them.

Also, it builds confidence in your own self as you begin to understand that you can take good care of your baby without having to worry about what they need next. This, in turn, fosters the love and relationship you have for your baby.

Final Thoughts

The above cues can help you understand your baby’s feeding patterns. Still, it’s always imperative to closely monitor your baby’s behavior and to try and determine the reasons behind your baby’s cues, as it’s possible there may be other reasons behind their actions.

If you are unsure whether hunger is the cause, try to feed them and observe their reaction. Trust in the fact that over time you’ll become better at identifying when your baby’s hungry and as long as you’re attentive to their cues, you won’t go far wrong.