Signs that your baby is hungry

How can I know my baby is hungry? (feeding cues)

If you are breastfeeding, you may have heard the term ‘feeding cues.’

It is good practice to follow these cues before feeding your baby. It’s important to know that twenty to thirty minutes before your baby gets to the crying phase, your baby may be trying to tell you that he is ready for feeding at the breast.

It’s far better to bring your baby to the breast before he gets to that last crying protest cue. Babies sometimes struggle to latch when they get to that point because they have become a bit more frustrated, sometimes distressed.

So what are the cues to look out for? The first cues are quite subtle:

  • You may see rapid eye movements or a little fluttering of your baby’s eyelids.
  • Your baby may bring his hand right up to his mouth and move his mouth a little bit as well.
  • Your baby may also lick his lips, and open and close his mouth quite a lot.
  • He may even suck on his hands, fingers, or toes, or for that matter, anything else that he might have in front of him!
  • If your baby gets to the point where he is trying to tell you that he is really hungry, he may even root around with his mouth.
  • If you are carrying him, he may also root around on your own body, trying to position himself for feeding. 
  • He may start to whimper or squeal a little bit as well.
Close up of a baby with hand in mouth

There are also some verbal cues happening at this time. You will also see a lot of squirming and fidgeting, and he may start to breathe faster.

It can be helpful to bring your baby to the breast at this time, before it leads into the next stage, where he may become more frantic!

If your baby has reached this latest feeding cue, where he is moving his head from side to side and starting to cry, it’s a good idea to calm him down first by bringing him close against your body, especially kangaroo care, which often helps to calm frantic babies.

However, this may not be possible if you’re outdoors! Soothing your baby before latching is a far better option as he is more likely to latch better.

Also, try not to wait until your breasts are feeling overly full before you bring your baby to the breast, because babies can sometimes struggle to latch in that circumstance. Another important point is that it’s still absolutely fine to bring your baby to the breast for ALL reasons, i.e., for warmth, comfort, and to chill out as well.

If your baby is a sleepy baby (too tired to show some of those cues), bring him to the breast anyway.

Do this every couple of hours in the day, and at least once a night (preferably every two hours or so).

These sleepy babies will eventually start to display feeding cues appropriately. Right now, however, they need an extra helping hand to enable them to get all the milk they need.

Skin to skin and baby is asleep
And just to let you know, around the age of six to eight weeks, your baby will start to suck on his hands for other reasons as well.

Babies of this age tend to have more control over their movements and begin to become interested in their hands, so things do change over time, so please be aware of those changes too.

Finally, as your baby reaches four to eight months – that’s generally the time when teething, starts to happen, and you can expect your baby to begin to bring his hands to his mouth and also suck on his hands in preparation for that tooth eruption!

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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