How to know when your baby is ready to feed

Feeding-Cues-article.JPG Becoming a parent is a daunting thought for the best of us. There are so many new things to learn like bathing, changing nappies, feeding, sleeping, clothing (the list goes on). One of the most common fears of new mums is not knowing when to breastfeed. Fear not, we have all the information you need to ensure you know when bub’s tummy is grumbling.

Feeding cues
As a mum, you and your baby share a special bond. Your baby is born with incredible instincts and is able to communicate with you within the first hour of birth. Your baby has the ability to express their hunger through a number of different clues. Look for the following clues to ensure you feed baby at the right time:

• eye movement under closed lids (rapid eye movement)
• increased alertness, awakening or changes in facial expression
• movement of arms or legs
• tossing, turning or wriggling
• mouthing
• rooting (opening their mouth and searching to suck on contact)
• clicking or tongue sucking
• hand movements to their mouth and sucking on hands
• squeaking noises or light fussing.

Remember, it is important for you and your baby communicate with each to make sure baby’s tummy stays happy. Avoid tightly wrapping your baby as it restricts your baby’s arm and leg movements as well as their ability to move their hand to mouth. Instead, wrap your baby in a light muslin wrap to avoid missing any hunger cues. 

We all know how difficult it is to please a baby once it has reached the hysterical crying stage. When your baby has reached this point, it is almost impossible to attach your baby to your breast.

Babies lift their tongue to the roof of their mouth in order to protect their airway when crying, therefore it is impossible for your baby to receive the nipple in their mouth.

If your baby is crying and you do not respond to early feeding clues, your baby will become disorganised and experience more difficulty with latching. In this situation, they may suckle briefly before falling asleep which will start a cycle of incomplete poor feeding and short sleeping.

Tips to avoid crying:
• Avoid changing baby’s nappy before the feed if this upsets your baby
• Instead commence the feed and change your baby mid-feed once they become sleepy
• Place your baby skin-to-skin against your chest to allow their nervous system to calm. This will allow your baby to exhibit early feeding cues and improve their ability to attach


Crying is a late sign of hunger. Avoid waiting for this sign as a crying baby can be more disorganised and therefore more difficult to attach.


Don’t let your baby ‘cry it out’
As we mentioned earlier, you and your baby share a special method of communication. One of your baby’s methods of communication is crying. This is how he/she “talks to you”. Beware of old fashioned people and books who tell you that your baby should be on a schedule and “cry it out” until feed time or learn to settle on their own. This theory is not supported by evidence. Midwives and lactation consultants at Mater do not support popular parenting books which encourage routines and schedules. We actively discourage their use because of their detrimental impact on breastfeeding.

Letting a baby ‘cry it out’ may be physiologically and psychologically harmful to a baby. Studies that have examined child attachment and development have found that babies who are responded to appropriately to when they display feeding cues are calmer, more attached and more independent children later in life.

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