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Navigating feeding cues

Navigating feeding cues
Navigating feeding cues

Words by
Feminin Botanik

Even from the first moments post-birth, your baby instinctively knows what they need.

Subtle, and not so subtle, sounds and movements are their way of communicating with us. One of the most powerful signals babies learn to share is their appetite. 

By understanding what behaviours and signs indicate fullness or hunger, you’ll be able to foster a feeding routine that supports the unique needs of your baby. 


What are feeding cues?

Feeding cues are a way for babies to express how they feel and what they need. Typically, feeding cues involve physical gestures, body positions and audible sounds that increase in intensity as their hunger builds. 

In the early stages, these feeding cues may be as subtle as rising from sleep, licking their lips or opening their mouth. Gradually, these will evolve into late stage feeding cues such as head turns, moving limbs and stretching.

Tuning into the nuances of your baby’s body language can aid the establishment of your milk supply (if breastfeeding is right for you) or your feeding cycle. Plus, it can help you catch early signs of hunger before it morphs into a ravenous state of distress.

Feeding cues aren’t static and evolve over time as our babies grow up. Research shows that younger babies tend to cue fullness by falling asleep while older infants are more direct with their fullness cues (often communicating “no” both verbally and non-verbally). 


Signs your baby may be ready to feed

Each baby’s feeding language is one of a kind. However, there are some common feeding cues to look out for, including:

  • Rapid eye movement under closed lids 
  • Increased wakefulness or changes in facial expression
  • Movement of arms or legs
  • Tossing, stirring or wriggling
  • Mouthing or rooting (opening their mouth and searching for a point of contact)
  • Clicking or tongue sucking 
  • Hand-to-mouth movements or sucking on hands 
  • Squeaking noises or light fussing

Once a baby reaches late-stage feeding cues, these signs can become louder and more pronounced (such as crying, agitated body movements or even bright, flushed cheeks).

The frequency of feeding 

The age of your baby is inextricably linked to how often they’re likely to feed.  A newborn in the first month of life may feed eight to 12 times within 24 hours. As a baby grows, they may drop down to only feed four times per day. 

A few signs that indicate your baby is well-fed include:

  • Meeting their growth and weight gain milestones
  • Settling well after feeding 
  • Five or more heavy, wet nappies every 24 hours 

In contrast, if a baby isn’t getting enough milk, you might notice:

  • They’re lethargic or low on energy
  • They’re spending too little or too much time at the breast 
  • Latching is painful or shallow
  • They’re not meeting their growth and weight gain milestones
  • They’re not producing at least five wet, heavy nappies every 24 hours 

Finding your own feeding rhythm

Feeding cues look different for every baby, and there is no exact formula for what to expect.

Plus, their feeding rhythm and frequency can change from day to day. Some of us can find skin to skin contact a helpful way to stabilise and regular bodily processes (such as feeding), but do what feels right for you. 

Listen to your body, trust your gut and embrace the uncertainty along the way. You’ve got this.