skip to main content
Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger Cues
Updated on
November 22, 2022

Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger Cues

Babylist editors love baby gear and independently curate their favorite products to share with you. If you buy something through links on our site, Babylist may earn a commission.
Pinterest logo.
Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger Cues.
Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger Cues

Babies come into the world with certain reflexes, skills and instincts, many of which can leave parents feeling like they’re learning a new language. In the first few weeks of life, your baby should be fed on demand rather than on a strict schedule. But how do you know when your baby is hungry? Besides crying (which can mean many things), there are a few other clues that’ll let you know your baby’s ready for a feeding. The first step to understanding your baby’s cues? Proximity.

“Being close with your baby (especially in those early weeks) really helps parents learn and understand signals that their baby gives them, especially surrounding hunger and sleep,” says Karrie Locher, RN and Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC).

Locher says the early hunger signs can be subtle and hard to spot, “so it is important to brush up on those ahead of time so parents know what they’re looking for before the baby gets to the point of crying.”

But just how do you learn to spot them? We’re here to help.

What are hunger cues?

Babies are born with certain survival instincts and figuring out how to solicit nourishment is one of them. While baby is laying on you, doing skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, newborns will even exhibit a phenomenon called the breast crawl, where they’ll essentially scoot themselves up to the breast to nurse.

What are the stages of hunger cues?

There are three “stages” of hunger cues to look for: Early, Mid and Late.

Early Hunger Cues: “Hey, I’m hungry!”

The earliest sign your baby is ready for a feeding include smacking their lips and sucking on their fingers and hands (or anything close by).

Mid Hunger Cues: “Hey, I’m really hungry”

Mid hunger cues tend to involve a bit more energy and a sense of urgency. Your baby will exhibit, “more noticeable cues like rooting (opening mouth and turning their head to the side), fidgeting, more active movements, trying to position themselves for nursing,” Locher says.

Late Hunger Cues: “Please calm me down first, then feed me”

At this point, your baby will be visibly upset–think fussing, crying and agitated. They’ll need to be calmed down before feeding.

If you’ve missed all of those earlier cues and have a very hungry baby on your hands, “it’s okay, take it as a learning experience for next time,” says Locher.

How often should I feed my baby?

If it seems like all your baby does is eat (and sleep and poop), you aren’t imagining things. You’ll be spending a lot of time feeding your baby.

“Babies don’t know clocks!” Locher says.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), most breastfed babies will nurse every 2-4 hours and formula-fed babies every 3-4 hours.

“Sometimes babies eat every hour, or every two hours, then give a three-hour stretch, then back to 45-minute intervals,” Locher says. “This is why watching for hunger cues and feeding on demand instead of by a schedule is important.”

This helps to ensure your baby is getting enough milk and to establish your breast milk supply.

“Never wake a sleeping baby,” goes the old saying, but in those first few weeks, you just may need to.

“If your baby has been sleeping for a few hours during the day and is approaching a ‘feeding time’ based on the guideline of every three hours, it is important to wake them and attempt a feeding,” Locher says.

My baby seems to want to feed constantly, what could this mean?

If they seem to be feeding ever more frequently than usual, they’re most likely cluster feeding. This is when “instead of the ‘every three hours’ baby has potentially been giving you between feedings, they may instead want to eat every 45 minutes,” Locher says. This is totally normal and “happens at different points in a breastfeeding journey for a multitude of reasons,” she adds. Early on baby may cluster feed to help signal your body to produce mature milk, and many cluster feed when experiencing progressions in development or teething.

While it’s helpful to learn all of the tips and tricks ahead of their arrival, learning how to read your baby is something you’ll ultimately learn through experience. Getting to know this new tiny person takes time and the best thing you can do is trust your baby and yourself.


Karrie Locher, RN, CLC, is a mom of four and founder of Karing for Postpartum who has combined her personal and professional experience to help new parents feel confident and capable in both breastfeeding and parenting.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.