Ask the Expert; Know your babies feeding cues.

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As part of Breastfeeding awareness week, the wonderful Stacy Jukes, a midwife of 20 years and lactation consultant for 16 years at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals in South Brisbane is sharing with us some super helpful tips on breastfeeding, starting with, When to Feed?

There are so many new things to learn as a new parent; like bathing, changing nappies, feeding, sleeping, clothing (the list goes on). One of the most common fears of new mums is not knowing when to breastfeed. Fear not, we have all the information you need to ensure you know when bub’s tummy is grumbling.

Feeding cues

As a mum, you and your baby share a special bond. Your baby is born with incredible instincts and is able to communicate with you within the first hour of birth. Your baby has a unique way of communicating to you that they are hungry. Look for, and respond to early feeding cues that your baby displays including:

  • rapid eye movement
  • clicking or tongue sucking
  • squeaking noises or light fussing
  • opening their mouth and searching to suck on contact (also known as rooting)
  • hand movements to their mouth or sucking on their hands
  • increased alertness, awakening or changes in facial expression
  • movement of arms or legs
  • tossing, turning or wriggling.


Crying is a late sign of hunger so avoid waiting for this sign as your baby will be more difficult to latch to your breast. Occasionally, babies can move rapidly through the feeding cues to crying, or the situation may not allow you to immediately respond to their early cues. However, placing your baby skin-to-skin against your chest allows them to calm and they may then exhibit those early feeding cues again. A calm baby is easier to latch.

We all know how difficult it is to please a baby once they have reached the hysterical crying stage. When your baby has reached this point, it is almost impossible to attach your baby to your breast. Babies lift their tongue to the roof of their mouth in order to protect their airway when crying; therefore, it is impossible for your baby to receive the nipple in their mouth.

If your baby is crying and you do not respond to early feeding clues, your baby will become disorganised and experience more difficulty with latching. In this situation, they may suckle briefly before falling asleep which will start a cycle of incomplete poor feeding and short sleeping.

Tips to avoid crying:

  • Avoid changing your baby’s nappy before the feed if this upsets your baby. Instead, commence the feed and change your baby mid-feed once they become sleepy.
  • Place your baby skin-to-skin against your chest to allow their nervous system to calm. This will allow your baby to exhibit early feeding cues and improve their ability to attach.

Don’t let your baby cry it out

One of your baby’s methods of communication is crying. This is how they talk to you. Beware of old fashioned people and books who tell you that your baby should be on a schedule and cry it out until feed time or learn to settle on their own. This theory is not supported by evidence.

Letting a baby cry it out may be physiologically and psychologically harmful to a baby. Studies that have examined child attachment and development have found that babies who are responded to appropriately to when they display feeding cues are calmer, more attached and more independent children later in life.

Midwives and lactation consultants at Mater do not support popular parenting books which encourage routines and schedules. We actively discourage their use because of their detrimental impact on breastfeeding.


Stacy has been a midwife for over 20 years, including 16 years as a lactation consultant. She is a proud mum of two teenage girls whom she was able to breastfeed for two and three years consecutively. At the time of her first daughter’s birth, breastfeeding didn’t start out easily and this led her having a deeper appreciation for the struggles many new mums experience when developing this new important relationship with their baby.

Stacy currently works with the breastfeeding team at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals in South Brisbane providing support in its postnatal wards as a lactation consultant, and also as a childbirth educator teaching parent education classes.

This content was provided by our Brisbane Advice Hub Partner, Mater Mothers’ Hospitals.   For more invaluable advice and information  from Mater Mothers’, check out their website here.

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