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How to Spot Baby Hunger Cues

By Jennifer Fernandez July 11, 2023 5 min read

Reviewed by Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS

How to Spot Baby Hunger Cues


Recognizing and responding to a baby's hunger cues is an essential skill for parents and caregivers. Understanding these cues can help prevent a fussy baby and ensure your child's nutritional needs are promptly met.

It may not be easy for new parents to figure out exactly what their baby's behavior is telling them. The good news is, as you spend precious moments bonding with your little bundle of joy, you'll unlock the secrets of their hunger cues, bit by bit.

To get you started on this journey, we will examine which physical and behavioral cues can indicate when it's time to feed baby and signals that your infant is full and satisfied.

Let's dive in and find out exactly how to tell if your baby is hungry!

The Secret Language of Hungry Babies: Deciphering Baby Hunger Cues

Babies often display early hunger cues before they start crying (a common late hunger cue). These cues are subtle signs that your baby is hungry and can include things like increased alertness, stirring or squirming, stretching, and turning their head from side to side. It's essential to pay attention to these early cues to respond to your baby's hunger before they become upset.

Keep in mind your baby's cues will likely change as they grow and learn new behaviors. Hunger cues can vary between babies and older children, and each child may have a unique way of indicating hunger.

Observing your baby's individual cues and patterns over time will help you become more attuned to their needs! As a general guideline, here are some physical and behavioral cues to look out for:


Recognizing Physical Cues

Recognizing Physical Cues | Organic's Best

Rooting reflex

The rooting reflex is an instinctive behavior observed in many newborns and babies that helps them locate the source of food, either the mother's breast or a bottle nipple. It's as if your baby is "rooting" around, searching for your breast or a bottle to begin feeding.

You can use the rooting reflex as a cue to let your baby nurse when they display this behavior. By gently stimulating their cheek or mouth, you can trigger the rooting reflex and guide them toward feeding.


Putting hand-to-mouth

Most babies like to explore their hands and fingers by putting them in their mouths. However, if a baby displays these actions and another hunger cue, like lip-smacking, it may indicate that it's time to feed your baby.


Sucking motions

Many moms notice that their babies make sucking motions with their mouths, lips, tongue, or fingers when hungry. These motions can be a sign that they are ready to feed!


Recognizing Behavioral Cues

Recognizing Behavioral Cues | Organic's Best

Increased fussiness

When babies are hungry, they may become fussy and restless as their body sends signals for nourishment. Fussiness surrounding hunger can manifest in different ways, such as increased restlessness, irritability, squirming, or even whimpering.



A crying baby is usually a late hunger cue, and hunger cues should ideally be responded to before it reaches this point. Instead of waiting for the tears to flow, keep an eye out for the early signs of hunger listed below. You can whisk your little one to the breast or bottle by catching those cues while they're still calm.


Stirring or waking from sleep

Babies often wake up or become restless when they are hungry. If your baby starts to stir, fuss, or open their eyes after a nap, it could be a sign that they're ready to eat.


Learn More: The 6-Month-Old Sleep Schedule


Uncovering the Surprising Signs of a Hungry Baby

While some of the signs discussed above may seem obvious, some hunger cues may surprise you, such as...


Surprising Signs of a Hungry Baby | Organic's Best


Increased alertness

Hunger can cause babies to become more awake and alert. They may open their eyes wide and appear more interested in their surroundings.


Increased activity

When a baby becomes more active and alert, it can indicate hunger. They may start to move their arms and legs more vigorously, kick their feet, or exhibit other increased body movements.


Full and Satisfied: The Key to Understanding Your Baby's Fullness Cues

Recognizing your baby's hunger cues is only half of the story; paying attention to signs that they are full is also important.

When it comes to your child's feedings, there's no need to enforce a clean plate or finish every drop in the bottle, as food should not be used as a reward or punishment. It's all about fostering a healthy relationship with food, where enjoyment and nourishment go hand in hand.

So, let your child take the lead and listen to their tummy's cues, and trust that they have an amazing ability to self-regulate their intake.


Recognizing Fullness Cues

Recognizing Fullness Cues | Organic's Best


Turning away

When your baby turns their head away from the breast, bottle, or spoon, it often indicates that they have had enough and are not hungry anymore.


Decreased or slowed sucking 

During feeding, you may notice that your baby's sucking slows down or becomes less vigorous. When your little one displays that they are ready to stop sucking, this can signify that they are becoming full.


Pushing away the nipple or spoon

If your baby starts to spit out the nipple or push away the spoon, it's a clear signal that they have reached the point of fullness.


Closing mouth or pursing lips

When your baby starts to close their mouth or purse their lips, it suggests that they have had enough and are signaling that they are done with the meal.


Learn More: Your Guide to Start Baby-Led Weaning



Feeding your baby is one of your most important jobs as a parent. One of the best ways to get comfortable with this task is to pay attention to hunger and fullness cues so that you never have to second guess whether or not your baby is receiving adequate nutrition!



Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

Jennifer Fernandez
Jennifer Fernandez

Agustina Fernandez is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.

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