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Newborn Hunger Cues + 3 Hunger Stages Explained

Newborn Hunger Cues + 3 Hunger Stages Explained

All about newborn hunger cues.

Babies are a bundle of joy and so adorable to everybody but everyone doesn’t know how stressful it is to care for newborns since they are so fragile and they need more round the clock attention when they are newborns than with older children.

While all they do is eat, sleep, bathe and digest caring for them is a lot and you have to work with signs (cues) to know when it is time to do what especially with feeding them.

As you read further, you will be able to answer the common questions new moms have about feeding their babies like “is he hungry” or “how often do I need to feed him?”

“how do I know if he has had enough?” and so on.

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Newborn hunger stages

Averagely new-borns feed every two to three hours, but because the baby is still at its earliest birth stage it is better to work with cues rather than the average timing to allow the baby adjust to its own body and energy needs.

When working with cues, the baby’s hunger stage can be divided into three essential stages from mild hunger to ‘I am mad at you for not feeding me’.

It is better to feed them at the earliest stage of their hunger than waiting until they are very hungry both for the mother and the child which will be discussed further down.

The three hunger stages and the cues that follow them

  • Early hunger stage: this is the first stage of hunger when the baby needs to feed but only lightly feels this strain. At this stage, the baby is very calm about it, except for the cues which the carer or mother should keep an eye for there is no other hassle needed.

Newborn hunger cues at the early hunger stage:

  • Opening and closing of the mouth
  • Licking the lips an or making a smacking sound
  • Sticking out the tongue
  • Moving the head while opening the mouth as if in search of something. This act is referred to as rooting reflex and at the first few months it is an involuntary action and is easily noticed when the mother stroke the baby’s cheeks and then he/she turns his head in the direction of the breast or the bottle to feet. This action is done as an involuntary reflex to indicate hunger and then after some months, it becomes a voluntary action.
  • Rooting against the chest of whoever is carrying him/her.
  • Sucking on things like hands, toys, clothes or whatever comes in close proximity of the moth at that time.
  • Middle hunger stage also called the active stage

Essentially, if the first cues of the babies’ hunger were missed, the child becomes more aggressive about his/her show of hunger than the initial subtle signs. It’s like he/she is saying “hello! Is anybody there? I am hungry”, the child becomes more active than he was hence the title ‘active stage’.

Newborn hunger cues at the active hunger stage:

  • Rooting in a more aggressive way than earlier by trying to snuggle close to the chest of whoever is carrying him/her
  • Increased limb movement
  • Trying to snuggle into his/her usual feeding position
  • Pulling on the clothes of the carrier
  • Increased breathing rate and fussing
  • Fidgeting and squirming
  • Disturbed sleep where the baby wakes up and falls asleep successively in little time intervals
  • Making whining sounds and grunting to depict his/her discomfort
  • Hitting against the chest of the carrier

Suckling sound and movement at anything that comes close to his/her mouth.

  • Late hunger stage, also known as the crying stage or the “oh-oh” stage

As adorable as babies are, you do not want to keep them hungry until this stage, not for the mother, not for the baby and not for anyone around because it can result to stress arising from panicking and confusion.

At this stage the baby becomes loud.

Newborn hunger cues at the late hunger stage:

  • Frantic movement of the head from side to side and bumping it against the chest of the carrier (if the child’s neck muscles have not become strong enough)
  • The most common cue at this stage is the crying. Crying as a result of hunger has caused a high misconception among people leading them to think that that is perhaps the only cue the child gives when they are hungry. Maybe because it is evidently the easiest to notice. It is advisably better to feed the child before they get to the crying stage since crying cold exhaust them, give them a headache and cause them to refuse to eat to their fill. So they’ll tend to fall asleep in the middle of feeding.

When is the right time to feed your baby?

As stated earlier, the right time to feed the baby is when he shows the earliest subtle cues of hunger.

If that is missed, then watch out for the middle (active) stage and if that is missed then oh well, the late hunger stage.

Also, If the baby begins to cry before being fed, it is important for you to remain calm and try to calm the baby before feeding him/her.

A crying baby will have his/her tongue at his upper pallet, blocking him from feeding.

Even after eating or while eating, the baby may depict some of these hunger cues if they are not yet satisfied.

If this is noticed feeding should be continued until they are satisfied as long as the baby does not fall asleep.

If the child is crying before being fed, he/she may sleep off before being full and in that case, he should be allowed to rest and then woken after a while to feed again.

In conclusion, newborns are at a fragile stage and as a result, they are still learning to adjust to time and satisfying their energy needs.

Keeping them fed properly and on time is important to avoiding stress and helping them regulate their energy and feeding patterns and to maintain a healthy weight.

If you like this article on the Newborn Hunger Cues + 3 Hunger Stages Explained, have any questions or concerns please leave a comment down below!

Newborn Hunger Cues Cheat Sheet

FREE cheat sheets for mom, dad, family members, and babysitters. So everyone knows exactly when baby is telling you to "feed me".

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About The Author


Hey there! Jennifer here, and I run this website. I am a mommy to one amazing awesome boy named Nicholas and hold 4 certificates in childcare and development. I created this website to provide useful information about pregnancy and parenting, spark inspiration and help you live a better life as a mom!

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