Understanding baby feeding cues

Feeding a newborn can be an overwhelming experience for new parents. With so many questions and concerns, it’s natural to feel uncertain about what your baby needs and when. Understanding your baby’s cues can make this process easier and lead to a more positive feeding experience for both you and your baby.

What are baby feeding cues?

Baby feeding cues refer to the signals or behaviour that you’ll see in your newborn to signal they are hungry or full. These cues can include sucking, rooting, or displaying body language such as bringing their hands to their mouth or turning their head towards you.

One of the ways to ensure that your baby is getting enough milk is to pay attention to their feeding cues throughout the day. By responding to your baby’s cues, you can help establish a responsive feeding relationship that will benefit both you and your baby.

Early hunger cues may include the following:

1. Rooting: When a newborn is hungry, they may turn their head more quickly towards something, such as the feeling of touch or touch near their mouth. This is called rooting and is a clear cue that your baby is ready to feed.

2. Sucking: Sucking is a reflex that newborns show  when hungry. Even when not feeding, newborns will suck on their hands, fingers, or items close to their mouth.

3. Mouth opening: When hungry, babies open their mouths wider than usual in preparation for feeding.

4. Lip smacking: Babies will often smack their lips in readiness for feeding.

5. Fussiness: As hunger increases, babies may become increasingly fussy or agitated, with crying being the ultimate sign of hunger.

6. Feeding as a pattern: Some babies may not display clear hunger cues, and it is essential to offer regular feeds every 2-3 hours for these babies.

Hunger cues can be subtle and easy to miss, especially in the early days of newborn life. By paying attention to to what your baby does around feeding time, you can help identify when your baby is hungry, and prevent an overfull or upset baby.

Understanding Fullness Cues

Knowing when your baby is full is also essential, and overfeeding can lead to issues such as fussiness, spitting up, and difficulty sleeping. You should actively look for signals of fullness and stop feeding immediately once you see these cues. Common signs that your baby is full may include the following:

1. Pull away from the breast or bottle: Babies will sometimes turn their head away,push away from the breast when they are full.

2. Decreased activity: As the baby becomes full, they may become less active and show less interest in feeding.

4. Slowing down or stopping sucking: As the baby becomes full, they may suck slower or stop altogether.

3. Falling asleep: Falling asleep while feeding can indicate that the baby is full.

The importance of responsive breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is something you and your baby learn together and like anything new, you need to get the hang of it. Responsive breastfeeding creates a sensitive reciprocal relationship between a mother and her baby.

A mother responds to her baby when:

  • he shows feeding cues
  • he is distressed or lonely
  • her breasts are full
  • she simply wants a sit down and cuddle

Breastfed babies cannot be overfed or ‘spoiled’ by frequent feeding!

The importance of responsive bottle feeding

Responsive feeding is an essential aspect of infant feeding that helps establish a strong bond between parent and newborn. Young babies are not capable of learning a routine. Responding to their cues for feeding and comfort makes babies feel secure, so they cry less, which makes your life easier too.

This trust will help build a healthy relationship for you and your baby in their world outside of feeding. You’ll become their ‘safe space’ and this helps build a secure attachment.

Responsive bottle feeding tips:

1. Feed baby responsively – waiting for cues

2. Hold baby close when feeding and looking into their eyes.

3. Limit the number of people who feed the baby / encouraging mothers to feed their babies themselves. (All needed)

4. Pace the feed – enabling the baby to take control of the milk flow and volume (needed with enough detail from the list below to demonstrate that the staff member understands how to pace the feed and why this is important)

  •  Hold the baby semi-upright
  •  Invite the baby to take the teat
  •  Hold the bottle horizontally (or just slightly tipped) in order that the baby can control the flow of milk
  • Follow the baby’s cues for when they need a break (recognising that these will differ e.g. splayed fingers and toes, milk spilling out of mouth, stopping sucking, turning head away, pushing teat away); lower the teat in the mouth so the flow ceases or remove the teat if that appears to be what the baby wants
  • Avoid forcing the baby to complete the feed

Building effective feeding habits

All mothers and babies are different, and you and your baby will work out your own feeding pattern together. As a very rough guide, your baby should feed at least 10 -12 times every 24 hours during the first few weeks.

Do not worry about feeding your baby whenever either of you wants to. You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby, and your baby will not become spoiled or demanding if you feed them whenever they’re hungry or need comfort.

The following tips can help establish an effective feeding routine:

1. Offer protection when feeding: When feeding your infant, ensure they are positioned safely and supported. This support will allow both the parent and the baby to be comfortable during feeding time.

2. Offer one breast during a feed: When breastfeeding, offer one breast for the majority of the feed and if baby is still hungry offer the second breast

3. Create a comfortable feeding environment: Provide a comfortable place for your baby to feed, a quiet environment, free of distraction, and relaxation when feeding.

Feeding cues are essential in the early days of parenting and understanding them can help parents build a positive loving relationship with their newborns. Hunger and fullness cues, combined with responsive feeding practices, can lead to a more content baby, and establish healthy feeding habits. By responding to your baby’s feeding cues, you can create a close, nurturing bond with your newborn.