Hunger Cues

Abrie McCoy, CLC
August 10, 2022

Did you know your baby will actually tell you when they are hungry? Long before they can even talk! These are called hunger cues. These cues signal to parents and caretakers that their baby is hungry or thirsty! Knowing these cues allows you to be able to respond quicker and more effectively to baby’s hunger. When you are able to respond earlier, feedings tend to be much easier and less stressful.

What do they look like?

  • REM sleep cycle
  • Sticking their tongue out
  • Hands to face and mouth
  • Opening mouth and smacking lips
  • Rooting/Mouthing (searching for something to latch onto with their mouth)
  • Wriggling
  • Stretching
  • Staring
  • “Ooh face”
  • Sucking
  • Crying

When do you see them?

Babies tend to have different states of alertness: deep sleep, light sleep (REM sleep/eye and body movement), drowsy (yawning, closing eyes), quiet alert (looking around), active alert (moves around and plays may get fussy), and crying. During the light sleep, drowsy, and quiet alert states you can begin to notice these cues. Your baby will continue to show these cues for a bit. However, if they do not get a response this is when they will transition into a crying state. If your baby begins to cry it can be difficult to have them latch onto a breast or bottle. At this point, it is important to calm them. Skin to skin is a great way to do this (Lauwers & Swisher, 2016, p 309-311)!

What do you do when you see them?

Feed your baby! If you are breastfeeding/chestfeeding, position yourself and baby to nurse. If you are bottle feeding expressed breastmilk or formula, offer and pace feed a bottle. When your baby begins to show fullness cues, this is a good time to end the feed.

Fullness cues?

When your baby is full, they may still be sucking in short bursts (non nutritive sucking) or unlatch from the breast or bottle. Their eyes may be closed with their hands nice and relaxed. If they are still latched to the breast, you can unlatch using your index finger inserted into the corner of their mouth to break the suction. (Lauwers & Swisher, 2016, p 375).

Why responding to hunger cues and fullness cues are important:

Responding to your baby’s cues early can make latching them at the breast an easier process. As well as avoiding them getting too worked up or upset to even want to try to eat. Responding to their cues also helps keep your milk production in sync with their needs. When you respond to their fullness cues, it helps create healthy eating practices and promotes self regulation. This can be said for both breastfed and bottle fed babies!

Is Your Baby Hungry or Full? Responsive Feeding Explained. (2017, September 1). Retrieved August 8, 2022, from website

Lauwers, J., & Swisher, A. (2016). Counseling the nursing mother: A lactation consultant's guide (6th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning.