Baby smiling.

How to Recognize Your Baby’s Hunger Cues 

After birth, your newborn is going to exhibit a range of reflexes, sporadic movements, sounds, and facial expressions. Since they can’t communicate with words, these movements and sounds are their way of telling you what they need. For help deciphering their message, take some time to research common reflexes that are present from day one. This will help you understand whether your baby is tired, hungry, or just taking in the world around them. While milestones are different amongst every individual, keeping up with reflexes is a great way to discuss development with your pediatrician. Another important factor to consider is how your baby expresses hunger cues. There are a range of common hunger signs that occur before crying even begins and plenty more to tell you when your baby has had enough to eat. To help, here’s how to recognize your baby’s hunger cues.


Common Signs that Your Baby is Hungry


Hunger cues are dynamic and evolve as your baby grows older. Newborns and young infants tend to show signs of hunger through the use of sounds and movements, many of which are naturally innate reflexes. By learning how to recognize these hunger cues, you can feed your baby while they’re still calm and avoid having to try to feed an agitated or crying baby. Some of the earliest signs that your baby is hungry include the following:


  • Putting their hands to their mouth
  • Turning their head towards a breast or bottle and opening their mouth (rooting reflex)
  • Licking their lips
  • Making sucking motions or noises
  • Sucking on items nearby
  • Puckers or smacks their mouth
  • Opens and closes their mouth
  • Sticking their tongue out
  • Clenches their fists
  • Flexing arms or legs


    After your baby goes through these early signs of hunger, they may become restless and fidget or squirm in your arms. Their breathing may become faster, and you will start to notice signs of fussiness. This is how your baby tells you that they are really hungry and starting to get uncomfortable. Once your baby passes into discomfort, they begin to cry. Therefore, crying is your baby’s last and final hunger cue.

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    It’s also important to understand that once your baby begins to realize they can manipulate their surroundings, hunger cues associated with moving their hands or bringing them to their mouth become a little unreliable. Dexterity is a phenomenon that babies explore in depth around six to eight weeks, but by this time you should have a stronger understanding of your baby’s feeding schedule.

    Reasons for a Baby to Cry

    A lot of new parents assume that crying is their baby’s first way of telling them that they’re hungry. This isn’t true. Crying is actually one of the last hunger cues that your baby gives when they’re hungry. Babies may also cry for a range of reasons, therefore using crying as a way to help create a feeding schedule may not be efficient. To learn how your baby communicates, keep an eye out for the hunger cues listed above. If you follow them, your baby may never cry out of hunger. Instead, your baby may be crying because they have a soiled diaper, they need a pacifier, they’re too hot or too cold, they’re tired, they’re uncomfortable, or they just want to be picked up and cuddled. Colic is another common reason that babies cry during those first few months of life. Here are some tips to help reduce fussiness in a baby with colic.

    Waiting until your baby cries to feed them is not recommended as it can create disruptive feeding schedules, cause your baby to experience discomfort, and result in latching problems. While you may not be able to differentiate between your baby’s hunger cues right away, you’ll quickly begin to pick up on how they communicate. As they get older, hunger cues may change and become more obvious. In children six months to 23 months old, hunger cues often include physically pointing at food, getting excited at the sight of food, and using certain hand motions to indicate hunger.

    Making Sure That Your Baby is Eating Enough

    One thing that new mothers worry about is whether their baby is getting enough to eat or not. By responding to your baby’s hunger cues, you can make sure that you are providing them with the nutrients they need based on their stomach size and digestion. However, babies should eat every two to three hours based on the rate of digestion of breast milk and the metabolism of a newborn. As they get older, the time between feedings begins to lengthen. To make sure that you’re giving your baby what they need, respond to their hunger cues and keep track of when feedings occur.

    Ensuring a Healthy Sleep Schedule

    In the first few weeks of your baby’s life, they’re going to spend almost all of their time eating and sleeping. If your baby is extremely tired, it’s unlikely that they’ll wake up on their own when they begin to feel hungry. To ensure that your baby is getting the nutrients they need for their development, it’s important to wake them up for feedings every two to four hours. Newborns need to be woken more frequently but as they get older, feedings can spread out. After about four weeks, you can let your baby sleep for longer periods of time as long as he or she is gaining weight within normal parameters and producing a normal amount of soiled diapers.

    Healthy physical development is marked by weight gain. Your pediatrician will work with you to ensure that your baby is growing up to be healthy and strong. If your baby isn’t gaining weight or producing a normal number of soiled diapers, talk to your pediatrician. Using responsive feeding and hunger cues, you will soon develop a schedule that works for both you and your baby. Your baby should be eating about eight to 12 times within a 24-hour period.

    During growth spurts, your baby may also show signs of increased feedings during short amounts of time. This is called cluster feeding and is completely normal in younger children. Your baby will present more hunger cues as their body needs more nutrients to fuel growth and healthy cellular function. Don’t worry, you won’t overfeed your baby. Just watch out for signs that your infant is full and stop until further hunger cues are expressed. Growth spurts and cluster feedings typically only last for a few days, so you won’t need to stray from your regular schedule for too long.

    Signs That Your Baby is Full

    Your baby expresses signs of satisfaction as well as hunger. Being able to recognize these signs will help you adhere to your baby’s hunger cues without leaving them feeling full or gassy. Some of the most common signs of fullness in babies include:

  • Releasing or pushing away from the breast
  • Closing their mouth
  • Not responding to latching or sucking again
  • Opened, relaxed hands
  • Relaxed body or even going a little limp
  • Increased interest in their environment or surroundings
  • Smiling during nursing
  • Other signs of contentment during nursing
  • Appearing drowsy, happy, and ready to go back to sleep.


When you notice these signs, you can discontinue nursing. As long as your baby is showing healthy signs of development, using their hunger cues rather than generic time limits for nursing is the best way to support their development. If you have any questions or concerns regarding how long your baby is nursing, talk to your doctor or pediatrician.


When to Call Your Doctor


While uncommon, there are situations that occur where medical intervention is required. To keep your baby safe and healthy, keep an eye out for anything abnormal and call your doctor with any questions. If you’re having problems waking up your infant for feedings, or if your baby expresses constant hunger cues for more than a few days, call your doctor. These could be signs that your baby isn’t getting enough breast milk and therefore, requires help from an expert to assess whether he or she is getting all of the essential nutrients needed for development.

To help you answer your baby’s hunger cues regardless of the time of day, Byram Healthcare has a wide selection of insurance covered breast pumps. Breast pumping is a great way to supplement feedings and ensure that your baby is getting what they need, whether you’re there or not. To get started with our easy, three-step ordering process, visit our breast pump selection page today.