Hunger Cues

Any links to Amazon are affiliate links.


As I was writing the post on PDF, I realized I did not have a post on hunger cues. I know that as a first time parent, you often wonder what physical signs mean baby is hungry. Sometimes you even wonder that with subseqent children because every baby is different.


Hunger Cues

I turned to my trusty Baby Whisperer Books and have come up with a list of common signals that a newborn baby is hungry (in chronological order):

  • Licking Lips: Hogg says this is one of the first signs of hunger. Of course, for a parent following an EWS cycle or EASY routine, you most likely will not be looking right at baby when the “lip licking” begins.
  • Rooting: This is when the tongue comes out, the head turns, and your baby resembles a baby bird looking for food. Baby turns head to the side, opens mouth and cranes neck.
  • Fist Hitting Face: Hogg calls the area between the nose and the bottom lip the feeding triangle. Baby will try to suck that fist but be unable to really get it in the mouth, so it will hit that area. But do take into consideration that baby might just be wanting to suck on something.
  • Coughing Sound: The cough preceding the cry is really reliable as a signal for hunger. If you listen carefully to your baby’s cries, you will come to recognize different sounds in the cries.
  • Crying: the crying starts short and builds to a steady “waa waa waa”

Other Signs:

  • Lips pursed
  • Curls tongue at sides
  • Arches back and looks for food

The information above is found on pageses 196-197 in The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems and page 92 in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.


Still Unsure?

If you are still unsure if baby is hungry or not:

  • Try feeding baby. If baby eats like she normally does at a feeding, then there is a good chance it was hunger. If not, then she wasn’t hungry.
  • Try a pacifier. See if that soothes him back to sleep. Be aware, though, that some babies will suck on a pacifier even when hungry–so the falling and staying asleep are important in this equation.
  • Try soothing to sleep in another way. Not all babies will take pacifiers and not all moms want to use pacifiers. Try soothing baby back to sleep in your own way. If baby falls asleep and stays asleep, then it likely was not hunger. If baby wakes within one hour, it most likely was hunger.
  • Consider the timing of the cry. You are following an eat, play, sleep pattern. If baby ate and played, then crying is likely because of a need for sleep. I have written this post under the  assumption that the crying you are deciphering is happening mid-nap or in the night.
  • See Naps: Troubleshooting–Revised and Updated


Sometimes you will get it wrong. Sometimes you will think she just wants to suck when she really was hungry. Sometimes you will try to feed her when all she needed was to fall back asleep.


When these times happen, think carefully about her body language and the sound of her cries. You might even want to take notes. This will help you get to know her sooner. It is unrealistic of you to think you will get it perfect every time. Think of your mistakes as learning experiences and move forward.





Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kristy Powers
    September 3, 2010 / 3:10 PM

    This is a great post! I did not really follow Baby Whisperer but I did make sure to read her (Traci Hogg). I think some of her details are fantastically helpful, and these hunger cues are part of the details that I love. Also her burping methods. 🙂

  2. Megan Davidhizar
    June 12, 2012 / 1:49 PM

    My daughter is 5 weeks old. We have been doing BW to the best of my knowledge from the start. I am afraid I'm creating some vicious cycles and need some words of affirmation.She has trouble with sleep during the day. She rarely wakes early from a nap and is always very sleepy when I wake her at three hours. I work very hard to keep her awake for 15 minutes on each side. In an effort to avoid her falling asleep at the breast, I pull her off after 15 minutes so she can either get to the other side or go down for a nap. However, she then fusses while we work on CiO(started this week). Sometimes it is just a fuss, other times she cries long and hard; the problem is during both times she shows hunger cues while being calm! I only know this from the video monitor and she does it even after 10 minutes from her feeding. Even more perplexing, sometimes she falls asleep soon after, but other times she cries for an hour before we move her to our back-up swing so she can get her sleep and not be exhausted at the next feeding.1. How do I reconcile CiO with following her hunger cues and not letting her fall asleep at the breast every time?2. Won't it confuse her to go in and try to feed her every time she shows hunger cues if we are doing CiO-particularly if without the video monitor I would assume she was just settling herself down?

  3. Megan Davidhizar
    June 12, 2012 / 1:50 PM

    I forgot to add: She still averages 6 wet diapers a day, though some days are 5 and some are 7.

  4. Plowmanators
    June 27, 2012 / 3:34 AM

    Megan, I think the answer to your issue will be keeping your baby awake during feedings. See my post on that. I wouldn't feed her right when she is going down for a nap–if she needs it then, then she is sleeping at the breast instead of eating.

  5. Sarah Rapp
    June 27, 2015 / 7:56 PM

    My baby seems to ONLY cry this way, with the cough preceding the cry (she's 5 weeks old) even after a massive 45 minute feeding! (Lots of poops and pee diapers so I know she is getting a lot)….=/

Leave a Reply