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Babystore • Fri 09-Dec-2022

Know more about newborn hunger cues


With older kids, it is easy to know when they are hungry because they communicate with words. In newborns, it is trickier because they can't talk; but they can communicate with their hunger cues. Most new mothers are not familiar with the concept of hunger cues, so they don't respond to the child until it is late and the child gets very hungry. To avoid starving a newborn, parents should be familiar with hunger cues (signs). 

Early Hunger Cues

The early cues are a baby's initial sign of hunger. They include:

  • Hand moving in the direction of the mouth.
  • Turning of the head to look at the breast.
  • The baby becomes more alert and active
  • Mouth opening and closing.
  • Lip-smacking
  • Hand sucking: It is only a reliable cue when the baby is less than eight weeks old. After that, it might just be an exploration act for the baby because it is just gaining control over the hands.

Middle Hunger Cues

Newborns get hungry frequently (like within a space of two to three hours), so they need to be fed constantly. Parents tend to miss the initial cue, especially when the child has been fed multiple times, but newborns don't give up rather they send more demanding signs like rooting, open eyes, and more active movements.

  • Rooting: It is a reflex that is triggered to tell if a child is ready to eat. Because it is a reflex, it is not a voluntary act, so the only way the baby can signal is by moving the head to the side with the mouth open while looking for a nipple. The mother can elicit this reflex by stroking the baby's cheek; the baby responds by turning the head towards the stroke and make mouth-sucking movements. This reflex only works for newborns lower than the age of four months.

Late Hunger Cues

If the early and middle cues did not get the mother's attention, the baby naturally proceeds to a more demanding sign that will get anyone's attention. These cues are restlessness and crying.

  • Restlessness: The newborn can fuss or wriggle when hungry. They are usually most active and move around a lot; the baby also raises the hands to the face with movements. This cue usually precedes crying.
  • Crying: It is a cue that no mother wants to get to before feeding a baby, and it is the most prominent cue. At this stage, the newborn is very hungry, stressed, a bit unresponsive, and might have difficulty latching on to the breast. Hunger cry is different from other cries because it is low-pitched and short (rise and fall pattern).


No one should ignore the early hunger signs, no matter how tempting it is, especially when trying to get a quick nap, because it stresses the baby, and no one will get rest until the baby is satisfied.

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