Baby's Hunger Cues: How To Identify Them?

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Feeding babies can be stressful for some new moms. They may have questions like, ‘Is my baby hungry?’, ‘How often should I feed my baby?’ and so on. The best one to answer all these questions is your little one. Yes, do not be surprised. Your baby gives several cues to let you know whether they are hungry or content.

Instead of calculating the time spent on feeding or the quantity fed, feed your baby when they are hungry. Pay attention to your baby’s behavior and simple cues. Wondering how to identify those signals? Read this MomJunction post to learn about typical baby hunger cues.

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. If you can pick those early hunger cues, it will be easier for you to feed the little one.

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

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.

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 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.
  • 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

  • Moving the head frantically from one side to the other.
  • Crying is the last sign. A hunger cry is usually low-pitched, short, and rises and falls.

Calm down the crying baby before feeding. Offer skin-to-skin contact first and then start feeding when they are relatively calm.

Approximate AgeHunger cues
0-5 months
  • Sucks on fist
  • Wakes and tosses
  • Cries or fusses
  • Opens mouth
5-6 months
  • Cries or fusses
  • Gazes at caregiver
  • Smiles or coos during feeding to indicate wanting more
  • Moves head toward spoon
5-9 months
  • Reaches for food
  • Points to food
8-11 months
  • Reaches for food
  • Points to food
  • Gets excited when food is offered
10-12 months
  • Asks for particular food with words or sounds

Source: USDA (4)

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. It will benefit you in more than one of these ways (5):

  • 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.

How To Know When Your Baby Is Full?

Once your baby is full and satisfied, they show signs that it is done. Fullness 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 food.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is hand sucking always a baby hunger cue?

Hand sucking need not always be a hunger cue once the baby crosses the newborn period. From around six to eight weeks, an infant begins to explore things through his hands and mouth. They gradually get more control over their hands. Sucking on hands is also common in babies before or during teething.

2. What if I am not sure if it is a hunger cue?

If you suspect one, yet not sure about your baby’s hunger, offer them a feed. It can help both you and your baby in more than one way:

  • The little one can have a feed if they are hungry.
  • If you are breastfeeding, your milk supply will increase.
  • It can reassure and comfort your baby.

If your baby has regularly been nursing, yet seems fussy, check for other problems like discomfort from gas or tummy ache, etc.

3. Why does my baby show hunger cues shortly after feeding?

It is normal for babies to have feeds between short time gaps. It is called cluster feeding and is more common during the afternoon or late evening.

Babies also tend to feed more during growth spurts, which lasts for two to three days. Growth spurt happens at around two to three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months.

4. Should I wake my sleeping baby for nursing?

Babies are very sleepy during the early days of birth. If the little one is less than four weeks old, wake them once every four hours during nights and once every two to three hours during the day to nurse. Practice this if they are gaining good weight, showing normal parameters, pooping, and peeing.

Try to figure out the subtle hunger cues of your little angels and ensure they are well-fed and content. It is equally important to understand fullness cues too. If the signals from the babies are neglected, they are likely to get confused about their hunger and fullness. It may lead to preferences for an unhealthy diet, and further, childhood obesity.

Do not worry if you miss the cues at times. Remember that each baby is different and has different ways of letting their mothers know what they want. As you get to know your little bundle of joy more, you can recognize the unique hunger cues better! Skin-to-skin contact helps you learn your baby’s feeding cues quickly.

Does your baby show any of these hunger cues? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Is your baby hungry or full? Responsive Feeding Explained; Healthy Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Feeding Your Baby: The First Year; Cleveland Clinic
3. Signs Your Child is Hungry or Full; Centers For Disease Control And Prevention
4. Infant Developmental Skills; USDA
5. Hunger cues; Government of Canada

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