H is for Hunger cues

We are celebrating our Montreal prenatal class with the ABCs of prenatal classes. From A to Z let’s cover some common prenatal terms, H is for Hunger cues, and what you can learn about them from our classes.

Newborn babies eat frequently. Like every 2 to 3 hours frequently. And sometimes even hourly and non-stop. Thankfully your baby will let you know about their hunger in subtle ways before the crying begins. If you can catch your baby’s early hunger cues you may have a better feeding experience. If you wait until they are really upset you might need to soothe your baby before they will eat.

Early hunger cues revolve around mouth and head movements: rooting, licking lips, putting hands to their mouths, sucking the air or whatever they can find closest to them. Rooting is when babies open their mouths and turn their head from side to side in search of something to latch onto. Often this is followed or accompanied by what a CLSC nurse described as chicken-heading. Babies bob their head up and down, moving in different ways in hopes of finding a food source, like a breast.

These are all instinctive behaviors that babies do regardless of feeding methods. And babies do not discriminate, everything and everyone is food to them. It’s all fair game: non-lactating breasts, chests, even other body parts like shoulders and collarbones might get chicken headed against and latched onto.


Does this mean every time you see a bit of mouth movement or rooting that you should drop everything and rush to feed your baby? Nah. It’s important that parents have some time to recoup, get bathroom breaks, shower and grab a snack. It’s good to have support people who know a few other soothing techniques. But babies can go from 0 to 100 pretty quickly and we don’t want to skip feeds, especially in the beginning. It’s wise to find a balance between recognizing early hunger signs but not treating every cue like an emergency situation.

What we cover about hunger cues in our prenatal class

Recognizing hunger cues

How do I tell if my baby is getting enough food?

How to get a great latch

Interesting facts about hunger cues

Sometimes babies eat, fall asleep, wake up 5 minutes later and show hunger cues, rooting and clearly looking for food again. When babies want to be non-stop at the breast or bottle we call this cluster feeding. Often cluster feeding happens in breastfed babies, particularly in the evenings and can be in preparation for a growth spurt. By feeding a lot, babies are telling your body to produce more milk to meet their growing needs. How clever are they!

Hunger cues change as babies get older and putting things in their mouths stops being associated with hunger. You won’t be able to rely on the same hunger cues long term and in fact their rooting reflex disappears entirely. Babies are always keeping us on our toes.

Up next I is for…
Back to G is for Golden Hour.

Learn more about our prenatal classes.


Feeding cues – Kelly mom