Understanding Your Baby’s Cues

From hunger cues to crying, get the scoop on what your baby wants.

Understanding Your Baby’s Cues


Learning What Baby Wants


One of the first things you’ll learn about your new baby is that it can be hard to know exactly what they want. They can’t talk, so we must watch what they do to figure out what’s going on. “Be patient while you’re learning your baby’s cues. It’s OK if you don’t know everything he’s trying to tell you right away,” says Kristina Arrieta, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Texas WIC.

I’m Hungry!

Whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding, all babies should be fed when they’re hungry. Don’t try to put them on a schedule. And it’s a lot easier to feed a baby who is just starting to get hungry. Watch for the early hunger cues! When your baby is hungry, you might see:

  1. Sucking
  2. Trying to get the hands in the mouth
  3. Searching for the breast
  4. Sticking out the tongue
  5. Smacking or making little sounds 
  6. Crying. This is a late hunger cue. If your baby is crying, you might have to calm him down before you can get him to start eating.

I’m Full!

When your baby is full, you might see him:

  1. Let go of your breast
  2. Fall asleep
  3. Relax and open his hands
  4. Turn away from your breast or bottle
  5. Let milk spill from his mouth
  6. Stop sucking or change the sucking pattern
When your baby is full, you might see him relax and open his hands

Oh, the Crying

Crying, which can be a late hunger cue, doesn’t always mean he’s hungry. Your baby could be saying:

  1. I’m tired
  2. I’ve had enough
  3. I have a dirty diaper
  4. I need to burp
  5. Pick me up
  6. Something hurts

The faster you respond, the less your baby will cry. 

I’ve had enough

If you’ve checked that your baby isn’t hungry, wet or hurting and he still won’t stop crying, just do your best. Here are some things you can try:

  1. Try holding your baby close to you and repeat the same sounds and movements over and over.
  2. Sing a soft song or play music.
  3. Go for a walk outside with your baby.
  4. Massage your baby’s arms, legs and back.
  5. Strap your baby into his car seat and go for a ride.
  6. Go from a bright room to a dark room, or vice versa.
  7. Try to nurse or feed your baby again after waiting a few minutes.

Calming a fussy baby can take time, so stick with the same action for several minutes before trying something else.

Try holding your baby close to you and repeat the same sounds and movements over and over.

Crying can be frustrating, but never, ever shake a baby. Shaking can cause brain damage and even death. If your baby won’t stop crying and you feel like you are losing your patience, put him down in a safe place (like a crib) and take a 10-minute break. Ask a family member or friend for help. Remember that this stage is only temporary. Babies are still developing, and sometimes they just cry. You will get through this! Watch this video for more tips on how to calm a crying baby.

I’m Sleepy!

It’s tough on parents, but newborns usually only sleep about 1 to 2 hours at a time. It’s normal for them to wake up often to be fed, comforted and changed. It’s hard at first, but it does get better. At around 16 weeks, most babies start to sleep better and wake up less often. That means you get to start sleeping more during the night! During the day, take advantage of your baby being asleep. Even 90 minutes of sleep can help, so get rest whenever you can. Take a nap when your baby naps or relax by taking a shower or a long, hot bath.

Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help with older children and chores around the house. Just take it day by day and you will find a rhythm. You’ve got this!

Take a nap when your baby naps
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