Identifying Early Feeding Cues

by Bravado Nursing

How to Identify Early Feeding Cues

Although it seems that all newborns do for the first few days and even weeks is eat and sleep, in fact they do communicate with us from the time they’re born. It is we, as new moms, who need to learn to decode their signals.

The signal for hunger is the most predominant and identifiable among babies. As new moms, we often think crying is the biggest indicator. And while that is definitely the unmistakable one, full-blown crying is actually considered a late hunger cue. To avoid getting to this point (for both your baby and for you), the best thing you can do is to learn your baby’s early feeding cues, and the best way to do this is to limit separation between you both. Being with your baby almost continuously in the first few days allows you to get to know him and feed him whenever he begins to show the first signs of hunger.

Of course, if for medical reasons, you need to be separated, don’t worry. You’ll come together as soon as you can, and learn his signals then.

Here are many of the early feeding cues babies give us. Every baby is unique, so yours may only elicit one cue or several. And you might read this list and think to yourself that your baby doesn’t do any of these – take a few days and watch, and you might be surprised. The important thing is to initiate a feeding when you see any of these.

Early Feeding Cues:

Rooting – he turns his head towards a stimulus and opens and closes his mouth (read the article The Rooting Reflex for more description).

Sucking at his hands

Moving his lips

Moving his limbs

Stirring (in his sleep)

Going into only a light sleep

Making small noises, like grunting or breathing more loudly

Crying – although full-blown crying is a late hunger cue, some babies can definitely go from early cues to late cues within a matter of seconds!

One of the most common dilemmas you can face – particularly in the first 24 hours - is that the baby sleeps most of the time. This can make it difficult to know when to feed him. You can help him along and elicit some of these cues by making him a little less comfortable to help him gently wake up by himself. By undressing him a bit, putting him down somewhere safe (that is, out of your arms), changing his diaper, etc. you may serve to wake him up just enough so he realizes he’s hungry.

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

Tips to success:

Try and limit separation between you and your baby in the first few days. This allows you to learn his early feeding cues faster.

If your baby has slept for a long time without feeding, take off a few layers of his clothing or put him down out of the warmth of your arms, somewhere safe to help him wake up and realize he’s hungry.

Initiate a feeding when you see any of the cues. Early hunger signs can turn to late ones – full-blown crying – very quickly.

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