Reading Your Premature Baby’s Feeding Cues

Premature Baby's Feeding Cues

Feeding a premature baby can be a unique and sometimes challenging experience for parents. Premature infants often have different feeding needs and cues compared to full-term babies. Understanding and interpreting your premature baby’s feeding cues is essential for ensuring they receive the nourishment they need to grow and develop. In this article, we will explore the importance of reading your premature baby’s feeding cues and provide guidance to help you navigate this crucial aspect of your baby’s care.

Understanding Premature Babies’ Feeding Cues

Premature babies are born before they have had the chance to fully develop, including their ability to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing during feeding. As a result, they may exhibit unique feeding cues that require careful attention from parents. Here are some common feeding cues to watch for in premature babies:

  • Rooting reflex: Premature babies may turn their heads towards a stimulus (such as a gentle touch on the cheek) when hungry, displaying the rooting reflex.
  • Hand-to-mouth movements: Babies often bring their hands to their mouths when they are hungry or seeking comfort. Observing this behavior can indicate their readiness to feed.
  • Sucking on fingers or pacifier: Premature babies may show an interest in sucking on their fingers, a pacifier, or even their caregiver’s finger, which can signal hunger.
  • Alertness and eye movements: When awake and hungry, premature babies may become more alert, with increased eye movements and focused attention on their surroundings.
  • Crying: Although crying is a late feeding cue, it can indicate hunger in premature infants. Recognizing hunger cues before reaching this stage can help prevent distress.

Responding to Feeding Cues

When you observe your premature baby’s feeding cues, it is crucial to respond promptly and appropriately. Here are some tips to help you respond effectively to your baby’s cues:

Timing is key

Offer feedings when your baby shows signs of hunger rather than waiting for a scheduled feeding time. Premature babies have small stomachs and may need to eat more frequently than full-term infants.


Ensure your baby is positioned comfortably for feeding. Premature infants often benefit from being held in a semi-upright or side-lying position to aid in digestion and reduce the risk of choking.

Skin-to-Skin Contact

Skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo care, is highly beneficial for premature infants. It promotes bonding, regulates body temperature, and can enhance feeding success.

Patience and Flexibility

Premature babies may tire easily during feedings, so it’s important to be patient and allow for breaks as needed. Feedings may take longer than expected, and your baby may require smaller, more frequent meals initially.

Observe Satiety Cues

Watch for signs that your baby is full or no longer interested in feeding, such as turning away, decreased sucking, or falling asleep. Forcing a premature baby to continue feeding beyond their cues can lead to feeding difficulties.

Consulting with Healthcare Providers

As a parent of a premature baby, it is crucial to maintain open communication with your healthcare team. They can provide valuable guidance and support as you navigate your baby’s feeding journey. Regular check-ups and consultations with healthcare providers specialized in neonatal care will help ensure your baby’s growth and development are on track.

Reading and responding to your premature baby’s feeding cues is essential for promoting successful feeding and growth. By understanding the unique cues of premature infants and adapting your approach accordingly, you can provide the nurturing environment necessary for your baby’s healthy development. Remember to seek guidance from healthcare professionals, as they can offer personalized advice and support throughout your baby’s feeding journey. With patience, attentiveness, and care, you can help your premature baby thrive and reach their full potential.

For more guidance in establishing a healthy feeding schedule for your premature baby, download Parent Sense now. It’s the all-in-one baby app that adjusts to your baby’s unique needs.

Meg faure

Meg Faure

Hi, I’m Meg Faure. I am an Occupational Therapist and the founder of Parent Sense. My ‘why’ is to support parents like you and help you to make the most of your parenting journey. Over the last 25 years, I’ve worked with thousands of babies, and I’ve come to understand that what works for fussy babies works just as well for all babies, worldwide.