What Does Cue-Based Feeding Really Mean?

Feeding your baby “on-cue” simply means not using the clock to tell you when your baby is ready to feed. Rather than feeding to a schedule, you feed your baby whenever they show you feeding cues that they are hungry...

Cue-based feeding may also mean that you don’t watch the clock to time how long your baby has fed for – rather, you allow your baby to feed for however long it takes them to be satisfied.

Your Baby Will Tell You When He’s Hungry

A baby that is preparing itself to feed will show you signs that they are ready but watch closely because the signs may initially be subtle and these are known as early feeding cues.

Your baby may start to rouse from sleep, start licking their lips or opening their mouth. They may even start sucking on their fingers.

These subtle signs will increase in intensity as your baby’s hunger grows and they may start to turn their head from side to side, start moving their limbs around and start making vocalising noises:

Hey Mum! Why aren’t you feeding me?

Eventually, your baby will start to cry, but crying is considered a late stage of hunger:

Feed me NOW!

It is much easier to get a calm and quiet baby latched onto the breast for a breastfeed than a very upset baby. Also, responding to early feeding cues has been shown to keep your milk supply up, satisfy your baby’s hunger and thirst and reassures your baby that you are there when they need you.

Check out the Australian Breastfeeding Associations article for great visual aid on baby feeding cues.

A Few Special Notes

If you have a premature baby, a sick baby, a baby who is not gaining weight or your health care practitioner has advised you to wake your baby for feeds then it is important that you do so.

Some babies need a bit of extra support in the early days and may need to be woken to feed. Generally, once these babies are gaining appropriate weight, you can switch to cue-based feeding but always be guided by your health care practitioner.

Is it Possible to Spoil Your Baby by Feeding Him or Her Too Often?

When you are a first-time mum or a new mum, you will receive lots of unsolicited advice. Take what works for you and forget the rest!

The truth is, you can’t spoil a baby by feeding frequently or holding them too often. In the first month after birth babies need to feed on average 8 – 12 times every 24 hours to ensure they are getting enough milk and that you stimulate the breasts enough to keep building your milk supply.

After this first month, research has shown us that babies will breastfeed anywhere from 4-13 times every 24 hours. But, most babies still feed on average 10-11 feeds every day.

Each mum and baby’s breastfeeding pattern is different and this is perfectly normal. It is just down to the levels of fat in your milk (which change throughout the day) and the amount of milk your breast can hold at each feed, as well as how your baby is feeling. Babies don’t only feed for nutrition; they also feed for many other reasons such as comfort, pain relief, thirst and connection.

It Takes a While for Everyone to Get Into a Rhythm

A newborn won't know the difference between night and day and they are unlikely to have regular feeding habits at first. Once your supply is established, you may find that you and your baby find your natural rhythm.

A breastfed baby’s natural rhythm can change from day to day and may change frequently. Flexibility will be key to your feeding success.

Feeding and holding you baby when they cue doesn’t mean that you are spoiling them, quite the opposite, it means that you are responding to your baby’s needs.

Holding your baby regularly, while they breastfeed or sleep, won’t set you up for bad habits in the future. Research has shown that for all mammals, including us humans, being held by our mother regulates all of our physiological needs.

Babies held in the skin to skin contact position stabilise their temperature, breathing, glucose levels and heart rate. Not being close to their mother leaves babies feeling stressed and dysregulation occurs – where babies find it hard to settle and regulate their body processes.

Babies are only little once and, before long, your baby may not want to be snuggled up against your chest, so hold your baby close Mama and enjoy those cuddles!

My Neighbour Feeds Her Baby to a Schedule and it Works for Her!

It's really hard not to compare yourself to another mums feeding pattern, but be reassured that every baby is different and every mother is different too.

Scheduled feedings are when a parent chooses a timed feeding interval based on things like the baby’s weight or age… and only feeds the baby at these intervals, regardless of baby’s cues or readiness.

Some mothers find that implementing a schedule work wonders for them. Often these are the rare babies that naturally feed at longer intervals and would have beat to that drum regardless.

Regardless, trying to force your baby into a strict feeding schedule can begin to interfere with your supply. The more that your baby feeds from you the more milk your body makes - It’s a clever system of demand and supply.

If milk isn’t removed from your breasts frequently, your body thinks that the milk is no longer required and your supply starts to down-regulate. Trying to get your baby to follow a strict schedule may not work for them and may leave both of you in tears of frustration!

Be guided by your baby and, over time, you will find that you and your baby find your own rhythm - one that is perfect for the both of you!

What is your take on cue-based feeding? Do you have any advice for the mums in our community who may be just at the beginning of their breastfeeding journey? Let’s have a chat and support each other here or on the Medela Australia Facebook page!