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Reading Infant Cues

It may seem like all your infant does is cry when he needs to tell you something.

Crying is a very important signal for a lot of things:

  • Your infant is awake and wants to be picked up
  • Your infant is tired and wants to be put down
  • Your infant is too hot
  • Your infant is too cold
  • Your infant is bored
  • Your infant is over-stimulated
  • Your infant is hungry
  • Your infant is full
  • And the list goes on...

It is important to be aware of and responsive to your infant's cues. Why?

  • Attending to your infant's needs will help him to feel safe and like he can trust in his parents.
  • Appropriate parental regulation of an infant's emotions, feeding and sleeping patterns will help the infant to develop his own abilities to self-regulate these things.
  • Reading your infant's cues will help ensure she does not get over-hungry, over-tired, or over-fed.


There are also many non-verbal cues that your infant uses to tell you things about both hunger and fullness:

Hunger or Readiness to Feed Cues

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Stage of Readiness Infant Behavior or Cue

Arm and leg wiggling

Rooting for breast

Bringing fingers or hand to mouth


Light fussing or intermittent crying



Full Crying


Turns red in color from being so upset


When it comes to feeding, watch the baby, not the clock. Feed your infant at the earliest sign of hunger, even if you don't think sufficient time has passed since the last feed. When an infant is crying and very upset, latching and successful breastfeeding can be very difficult. Also, an infant in the late stages of hunger can be very difficult to soothe.


Fullness Cues

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Infant Behavior or Cue
Very relaxed state
Increasing drowsiness
Falling into a light sleep at the breast
Content expression
"Milk Drunk" look, meaning the infant's face looks very drowsy and happy
Lets go of the breast on his own

Similarly to above, watch the baby, not the clock. Your infant may feed for a long time or a short time; either one can be normal. If your infant is exhibiting the above fullness cues at the end of the feed and is no longer showing any hunger cues, chances are she has eaten her fill and does not need more.



Note: The tables and information on this page were adapted from: Riordan, J., ed. Breastfeeding and human lactation. 3 ed. 2005, Jones and Bartlett Publishers: Sundbury, MA.


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