Breastfeeding: How to Learn Baby's Feeding Cues

Although it might seem like the only thing your newborn is doing for the first few days or weeks of her life is eating and sleeping, she actually started communicating with you as soon as she was born. As a new mom, you'll need to learn to decipher her signals.

The signal for hunger is the most predominant and identifiable among babies. As a new moms, you might think crying is the biggest indicator. And while it's the unmistakable one, full-blown crying is actually considered a late hunger cue. To avoid getting to this point, the best thing you can do is to learn your baby's early feeding cues. What's the best way to do that? By limiting the separation between you and your baby. Being with her almost all the time during the first few days will help you to get to know her cues and feed her whenever she begins to show the first signs of hunger.

Of course, if for medical reasons you need to be separated from your baby for a while, don't worry because you won't lose any precious time. You'll come together as soon as you can and learn her signals then.

Here are many of the early feeding cues your baby will give you. Every baby is unique, so yours might only display one cue or several but not all of them. And you might read this list and think your baby doesn't do any of these things. If you take a few days to watch closely, you might be surprised. The important thing is to start a feeding when you see any of these signs:

Early feeding cues

  • Rooting Reflex. She turns her head toward a stimulus and opens and closes her mouth.
  • Sucking at her hands.
  • Moving her lips.
  • Moving her limbs.
  • Stirring in her sleep.Going into a light sleep.
  • Making small noises, like grunting or breathing loudly.
  • Crying. While full-blown crying is a late hunger cue, some babies can go from early cues to late cues within a matter of seconds.

One of the most common challenges you can face, particularly during the first 24 hours, is that your baby sleeps most of the time. This can make it hard to know when to feed her. You can help her along and encourage some of the above cues by making her a little less comfortable to help her gently wake up by herself. By undressing her a bit, putting her down somewhere safe so she's out of your arms or changing her diaper, you might wake her up just enough so she realizes she's hungry.

As the days pass, you'll get to know your baby's hunger cues and she'll gradually start to spend more time awake, making breastfeeding easier for both of you.

Tips for success

  • Try to limit the separation between you and your baby during the first few days. The more time you spend together, the faster you'll learn her early feeding cues.
  • If your baby has slept for a long time without feeding, remove a few layers of her clothing or put her down somewhere safe so she's out of the warmth of your arms to help her wake up and realize she's hungry.
  • Initiate a feeding when you see any of the cues. Early hunger signs can turn to late ones like full-blown crying quickly.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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