Understanding and Responding to Feeding Cues in Newborns and Infants

Feeding a newborn or infant can be a joyous and rewarding experience, but it can also come with challenges. One key aspect of successful feeding is recognizing and responding to your baby’s feeding cues. These subtle signals are the baby’s way of communicating their hunger, fullness, or other needs related to feeding. In this blog post, we will explore common feeding cues in newborns and infants and provide tips for parents and caregivers on how to respond to them effectively.

Early Hunger Cues

  1. Rapid Eye Movement (REM): REM identifies the beginning of active sleep and is the earliest feeding cue. Look for fluttering eyelids while they sleep.
  1. Rooting Reflex: When a baby turns their head and opens their mouth toward the touch or stroke of their cheek, it indicates the rooting reflex. This is a sign that they are ready to latch and start feeding.
  1. Sucking on Hands or Fingers: Babies often explore their hands and fingers by putting them in their mouths. However, if they are doing it persistently, it might be a sign of hunger.
  1. Lip Smacking and Tongue Movements: These subtle movements can indicate that the baby is ready to feed.

Tip: Respond promptly to early hunger cues to make the feeding process more comfortable for both you and your baby. Waiting until your baby is crying can make latching more difficult.

Mid-Hunger Cues

Increased Activity and Wiggling: Babies may become more active when they start to feel hungry, showing excitement, restlessness, and flexing.

Mouthing and Nuzzling: Babies may turn their heads to nuzzle against your chest or shoulder, displaying a desire to feed.

Making Squeaky Noises: Some babies make small noises when they are hungry, indicating their need for nourishment.

Tip: Pay attention to these cues and create a calm and quiet environment for feeding. This helps the baby focus on the feeding process.

Late Hunger Cues

Crying: While crying is a late hunger cue, it is essential to note that babies have different cries for different needs. A hunger cry may be more urgent and rhythmic.

Fussiness: Babies may become fussy and irritable as hunger intensifies.

Sucking on Fists Vigorously: This is a more intense version of the earlier hand-sucking cue, indicating increased hunger.

Tip: Respond to late hunger cues promptly to prevent the baby from becoming overly distressed. A calm and soothing approach can help ease the transition into feeding.

Fullness Cues

Slowing Down or Stopping Sucking: As the baby becomes satisfied, they may slow down or stop sucking.

Turning Away: If the baby turns their head away or pushes the bottle or breast away, it might be a sign that they’ve had enough.

Relaxed Body Language: A content and full baby often displays relaxed body language, with open hands and a calm demeanor.

Tip: Pay attention to your baby’s fullness cues, it’s important to allow the baby to self-regulate their intake.

If you are having a hard time catching the earlier feeding cues it is okay! Some babies move quickly from the earlier cues to crying. Skin to skin holding can help with this. If your baby is showing subtle feeding cues that you are having a hard time seeing, try holding your baby skin to skin between feeds. If you do not notice your baby showing feeding cues, please contact our office so we can assess the next best steps for your baby.

Understanding and responding to your newborn’s feeding cues is crucial for fostering a healthy feeding relationship. By tuning in to your baby’s subtle signals, you can create a positive feeding experience and ensure that your little one gets the nourishment they need. Remember, every baby is unique, so being attuned to your baby’s individual cues will help you navigate the rewarding journey of feeding with confidence and joy.