Baby feeding cues not hungry

Hunger Cues - When do I feed baby? •

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

Babies should be fed when they indicate hunger. Crying is a late indicator of hunger – breastfeeding is much easier for both mom and baby if mom is able to pick up on baby’s earlier hunger cues.


Common infant hunger cues include:

Early hunger cue

  • Smacking or licking lips
  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Sucking on lips, tongue, hands, fingers, toes, toys, or clothing
  • Rooting around on the chest of whoever is carrying him
  • Trying to position for nursing, either by lying back or pulling on your clothes
  • Fidgeting or squirming around a lot
  • Hitting you on the arm or chest repeatedly
  • Fussing or breathing fast

Late hunger cue


Late (calm baby before feeding)
  • Moving head frantically from side to side
  • Crying

“My newborn wants to sleep all the time! Should I wake him to nurse?”

Yes, if he doesn’t wake on his own. Many newborns are very sleepy in the early days or weeks and may not exhibit hunger cues as often as they actually need to eat. Newborns should be nursed anytime they cue hunger, but at least every 2 hours during the day and at least once during the night. Once your baby has established a good weight gain pattern (at least 4 ounces per week, for babies under 4 months), you can stop waking baby to nurse and let him set his own pattern.

“My baby just started sleeping longer at night. Do I need to wake him to nurse?”

If your baby is younger than 4 weeks, then it is a good idea to wake baby at least every 4-5 hours at night to nurse if he does not wake on his own. If your child is older than 4 weeks, you can allow baby to sleep as long as he wants at night as long as he is peeing, pooping, and gaining weight within normal parameters.

“My baby frequently sucks on his hands. Does this always mean that he’s hungry?”

After the newborn period, hand sucking is not as reliable an indicator of hunger. Starting at around 6-8 weeks, baby will begin to gain more control over his hands and will soon begin to explore his hands and everything else using his mouth. It is also common for babies to suck on their hands when their gums become tender in preparation for tooth eruption. Symptoms of teething can sometimes occur weeks and even months before the first tooth erupts. More here on teething.


More information:

Signs That Your Baby Is Hungry, a video from baby gooroo’s Amy Spangler, RN, MN, IBCLC

Newborn hunger cues video from janellevideo

Baby feeding cues (great photo handout here), from Queensland Health

Infant Hunger Cues, from Lactation Education Resources

Feeding Cues, from the Australian Breastfeeding Association

The Clock and Early Breastfeeding, by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA

Nursing your newborn — what to expect in the early weeks @ KellyMom

Should baby be on a schedule? Links @ KellyMom

Examining the Evidence for Cue Feeding Breastfed Infants by Lisa Marasco, BA, IBCLC and Jan Barger, MA, RN, IBCLC

Baby Hunger Cues: Signs Your Newborn or Baby is Hungry

Not a mind reader? Help take the guesswork out of feeding with these 6 signs of a hungry baby from birth to 6 months old.

Is your 6-month-old eating enough? How often should you feed them? Do their nutritional needs change from week to week? Babies communicate differently, here are some signs to look for.

6 signs of a hungry baby

Baby Hunger Cue #1. Wakes up and acts restless

Before your baby launches into a full-blown wail, they may wake up and move around in their crib. They may move their mouth and raise their hands to their face.

Baby Hunger Cue #2. Sucks fists or smacks lips

If you breastfeed, fist sucking and lip smacking are signs your hungry baby will latch on more easily.

Baby Hunger Cue #3. Roots

During your infant’s first weeks, if you stroke their cheek, their natural reflex will be to turn toward the bottle or breast and make sucking motions—this is called rooting. It shifts to being a voluntary action rather than a reflex by about 4 months old.

Baby Hunger Cue #4. Continues suckling

A hungry baby may continue to show interest in sucking even after finishing the first breast or bottle. This could be your baby’s way of letting you know they’re not quite done yet.

Baby Hunger Cue #5. Smiles during feeding

Babies older than 4 months will show their interest in eating by looking at you and smiling as they feed—just about as heartwarming as it gets.

Baby Hunger Cue #6. Cries

A hunger cry is usually short, low-pitched, and rises and falls. Crying is one of the later signs of a hungry baby. You'll likely notice other cues first. By the time a hungr=""y baby wails, it may be more difficult to start feeding them until they calm down.

”Hearing your baby’s ‘hungry-cry’ is so stressful.” - Enfamil® mom

5 signs your little one is full

Full Baby Cue #1. Closes lips

Just as a hungry baby suckles, a full baby will likely zip their lips. This could be your little one’s way of saying they’re all done.

Full Baby Cue #2. Turns head away

A more forceful version of closing their lips is moving their head away. If your baby turns away from your breast or bottle, don't force them to eat.

Full Baby Cue #3. Decreases or stops sucking

Some full babies stay latched to the nipple without sucking—at which point, it's probably time to gently end the session.

Full Baby Cue #4. Spits out the nipple or falls asleep when full

After about 15 to 20 minutes of feeding, a full baby often acts drowsy and may even fall asleep.

Full Baby Cue #5. Interest in surroundings, not eating

Around 4 months old, many babies begin to get distracted during feedings, as their awareness of the world around them grows. A hungry baby will usually put this curiosity on hold long enough to fill up. Looking around distractedly is a sign they’re full.

Babies are smart. They instinctively know when they need to be fed and when they’re satisfied. They are typically in-tune to their needs. So, try to relax! Play it by ear and pay attention to your baby’s cues.

Now that you know the signs of a hungry baby, feeding time can be a little less stressful, leaving more time for bonding! Learn more about formula-feeding your little one.


How to understand that the baby is hungry?

Older babies can tell you they're hungry, babies and newborns can't. At least they can't put it into words. But they may communicate their needs to you in other ways. At first, you may not notice signs of hunger in the baby, but as you become closer to each other, in the days and weeks after birth, you will learn to recognize the signals that will tell you that the baby is hungry and would like to refresh yourself with your milk. .

How does the baby signal the desire to latch on?

- circular movements with arms and legs;
- attempts to suck a finger or put a fist in the mouth;
- smacking the tongue;
- frequent turns of the head from side to side;
- attempts to attach to the chest while in your arms;
- the publication of various sounds whimpering, grunting, crying;
- change of facial expression;
- anxiety, arching of the body

Most likely you have already heard that the baby reports hunger with his crying. Yes it's true. Baby cries when very hungry. However, crying is one of the last signs to appear. By the time the baby is already crying, he is very upset and feels a strong sense of hunger. That is why it is so difficult to calm him down in such a state. Also, the baby spends a lot of energy on crying: he gets tired quickly and may suck worse at the breast. Try to put the baby to the chest before he starts crying, especially if the baby has just woken up and is giving you signals.

What to do if you think your baby is hungry after breastfeeding?

If you listen to your baby's signals not to feed according to the schedule, you will find that the baby asks for food literally every hour (or a little less often). Do you think your child is hungry? Try to put it on the breast, even if the feedings are frequent.

Sometimes feedings occur in clusters: the baby is often attached to the breast for a short period of time. Or there may be a jump in development, which also affects the frequency of feeding. During such jumps, it may even seem that the child is “hanging” on his chest all day, but at the same time he is constantly hungry. This can last for several days until the moment when, due to active suckling of the breast, milk production increases significantly. Just keep applying the baby on demand.

Newborns and sleepers

If your baby sleeps a lot, you may not notice signs of hunger. However, the absence of such signs does not mean that the baby has enough nutrition. Usually newborns are applied to the breast at least 8-12 times a day. Do not be afraid to wake the baby if more than 3 hours have passed after feeding. If the baby is difficult to wake up, try putting him on his chest. Some babies feed well even in their sleep.

Do you think your baby is not getting enough breast milk?

Count the number of times you urinate per day and contact a lactation consultant or your pediatrician.

Translated by
Borina Ksenia
Lactation consultant, Moscow

Original article

Breastfeeding regimen

Covering the topic of breastfeeding, it is impossible to ignore such a thing as a feeding regimen. All mothers know that modern doctors recommend feeding the baby on demand. However, what this means, each woman understands in her own way. Some mothers believe that on demand is to feed once every 3 hours, others are sure that on demand means feeding at every rustle, etc. Let's try to understand this difficult topic.

If feeding is considered as an act of feeding, then "on demand" means to feed when the child begins to want to eat. If the child screams a lot, it means that the mother missed the right moment for feeding and the baby wants to eat for a long time.

Signs of hunger

Early signs of hunger:

1. The child's activity increases - the baby wakes up, moves.

2. Search movements are made - the child turns his head left and right, looking for the chest with his mouth.

3. There are various sounds, smacking.

4. The kid brings the hands to his mouth, sucks his fist.

If the mother ignores these manifestations, the baby has no choice but to scream heart-rendingly. The cry of the baby in this case will be a signal for the parents, saying that the child has long needed to eat.

If the baby is crying, but no signs of hunger were noticeable before, then it is likely that the baby is crying for another reason - due to a dirty diaper, too high or low room temperature, tummy pain, need for sleep etc. Or maybe he just missed his mother and wants to be in her arms.

Therefore, it is better to first check if there are other reasons for crying? Attention! All of the above applies only to older children.

What about newborn babies?

Newborn babies do not yet have a formed feeling of hunger. These babies are in a state of discomfort. For 9 months of intrauterine development, they are accustomed to living in a calm and warm mother's belly. After that, our world seems to them too loud, too bright, too noisy and cold. The only thing that can reduce this discomfort is the taste of mother's milk and the smell of lubricant produced by the glands on the areola of the nipples.

Learn more