hungry baby

Cues, Signs and Soothing Baby

As you and your baby get to know each other, you will pick up cues that your baby gives you that may help you meet his needs, before he gets too hungry or upset.

Feeding Cues/Signs                                       

  • Early – Babies that are getting hungry are often stirring, open their mouth, turn their head or start rooting (nuzzling).
  • Mid – Babies at this stage are often stretching, moving more and putting hands in their mouth.
  • Late – Babies may be upset and need to settle before latching well for a feed. They are often crying, agitated or red in the face.

Tired Cues/Signs

While newborn babies often go back to sleep shortly after a feed, as they get older, they may have increasing wakeful or alert times. Babies also quickly go from being alert to being tired. Tired cues are handy signals to learn quickly. If you can intervene before they start crying, you can prevent them from getting overtired. They are so much harder to get to sleep once overstimulated.

These could be:

  • Yawning
  • Staring into the distance
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Jerky movements of arms and legs
  • Arched back
  • Fussy or grizzly noises
  • Clenched fists

When your baby is upset, it is easy and natural for us to get upset too. Even more so if you have exhausted the usual feed-wind-nappy-cuddle options. Your baby will settle more quickly if you stay calm because they respond to the cues you are sending out. It’s essential to trust your instincts too. If you are worried about your baby’s crying, ask your doctor, midwife or nurse to check her over so that you know that everything is ok. You’re not doing anything wrong, it’s not your fault, and it happens to lots of people.

Soothing strategies

Here are a few more strategies to keep up your sleeve when the usuals don’t work:

  • Rocking, patting or gently rubbing your baby’s back, tummy or feet.
  • Skin to Skin.
  • Offer more frequent feeds.
  • Get a change of scenery – going for a walk or a drive.
  • Give your baby a warm bath or massage.
  • Shushing or gentle patting may mimic what baby heard in the womb.
  • Turning on some white noise, any machine with vibrations or a rushing sound may have a soothing effect. Some apps and devices have recordings of waves, rainfall, heartbeats or white noise.
  • Is it wind? – lay baby down across your knees face down and gently rub their back or gently bicycle their legs with them laying on their back. Talk to your doctor or child health nurse if you are concerned about colic or whether the use of infant gas drops is indicated.
  • Carrying your baby in a sling – some like the closeness this brings.
  • Swaddle/wrap baby – Wrapping baby in a thin, lightweight blanket or muslin with her arms across her chest often has a calming effect. It may even help babies sleep longer or more soundly.

Ergobaby carries a wide range of slings, wraps and swaddles that can help to settle your baby. To see this range, please click here.

The WHO Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding state that pacifiers may interfere with exclusive breastfeeding. Please use the sucking method that works best for you.

Janice Rowe (BSW (Hons) BMid), Registered Midwife
Photo by A3pfamily used under license from