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Breastfeeding baby hunger cues

Breastfeeding baby hunger cues via

Hi mamas! I’m Kristin Gourley, IBCLC. I’m a mom to 5 and lactation consultant with Lactation Link. I’m here today to talk about newborn hunger cues. Enjoy!

Sometimes it can take some time to learn your baby’s cues to eat, but it’s important to remember that nursing is ....

Soon after you’re holding your fresh bundle of joy the reality can set in: you are responsible for keeping this little one alive and thriving!  So how do you know when your baby is hungry if he can’t tell you?  Well, baby not be able to use words and tell you, but he sure can let you know when he’s ready to eat! Read on to learn about baby’s feeding cues!

Breastfeeding baby hunger cues via

Babies have great survival instincts and consistent behaviors to show when they are hungry (and then when they’re full!).  Sometimes it can take some time to learn your baby’s hunger cues to eat (Early hunger cues can be very different from late hunger cues), but it’s important to remember that nursing is about more than just the food. You can offer the breast to your baby even if it hasn’t been the standard 2-3 hours that the hospital said would be in between feeds.  You can’t nurse too much!  

Common hunger cues in infants

Quiet alert state (check out our Breastfeeding Basics class for a great video showing this behavior!).  If baby is turning his head from side to side or turning his head and opening his mouth while looking content, put him to breast!  He may be content now, but he’s trying to tell you he’s hungry before he gets hangry!

Sucking on hands, lips, clothes, toys, etc.  Babies do put everything in their mouths, but hand sucking in the early days and first year is a big sign of hunger, and frantic sucking on anything else is a dependable sign of hunger in babies once they’re a couple months old.

Trying to lay down in typical nursing position.  If you normally breastfeed in the cradle position, baby might try and throw his head back to get into that position.  It’s a not-so-subtle way to say, “Hey, mom!  Help me do this!” Baby wants your breastmilk! 

Squirming around, fidgeting or smacking is another sign of potential hunger, especially in newborns and very young infants.  Little babies with full tummies are generally very relaxed and content.

Breastfeeding baby hunger cues via


Breastfeeding baby hunger cues via

Breastfeeding baby hunger cues via

If you’ve spent any time with a baby you are probably wondering why crying baby is not on this list!  It’s true that babies will cry when they get hungry, but it’s generally once they are so hungry that they’ve gotten angry they haven’t been fed yet! (1)  This is a late sign of hunger. Once it gets to this point, you often need to calm baby down so he can focus enough to latch on and breastfeed.

Breastfeeding baby hunger cues via

  • It can seem like a crash course in learning baby language when you become a new parent, but rest assured that you will learn your baby’s unique signs and become fluent before you know it!  To feel as prepared and confident as possible once baby arrives, be sure to take our Confident Breastfeeding Course video classes.  These classes will teach you the basis like starting a feeding schedule, increasing milk supply, fullness cues and more about baby’s development. Our classes are also great once baby arrives!  Don’t feel like you’re flailing in parenthood; knowledge brings confidence!  Are you still unsure about what baby is trying to tell you?  Schedule an e-consult and we would love to help you figure it out.

    Thanks for stopping by,

    Kristin Gourley, BS, IBCLC

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(1) Riordan, J. & Wambach, K. (2010). Perinatal and intrapartum care in Breastfeeding and human lactation, 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, p. 221.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Charity says:

    Some much great information!

  • Amanda Valdez says:

    What about older babies. I always find articles about newborns and babies a few months old but what about babies who are 4 months old (I’m asking because I have a 4 month old and I can’t tall when she’s hungry anymore). When she’s awake she is trying to eat her hands 90% of the time so I try to put her to the breast when she does this but I feel like I’m offering too often and at the same time thinking she’s not getting enough. Suggestions?

    • Lindsey Shipley says:

      You can’t offer the breast too often! 🙂 The great thing about breastfeeding is that baby can decide for themselves when they have had enough. Hope this helps! <3