Originally published on Aug. 26, 2018.

In previous posts we've talked about ways that we can understand whether your premature baby is ready for oral feeding, and how to support them if they are not.

Now we're going to focus on the next stage, when we start to offer your baby oral feeding opportunities. It is important to think about this stage as a separate stage to establishing oral feeding. This stage is for learning and practising skills. There will not be an emphasis on them supporting their own nutrition yet, that's what their NG or other feeding tube is for.

In the next few posts we're going to explore ways that your baby communicates to you that they are ready for a feed, ways they tell you they need a break, and some things that will help them to get the best out of a feed.

Today's post is about feeding cues. These are behaviours that babies show when they are getting ready to feed. They are one aspect of the important skill of being able to 'read the feed', that is, understand what our babies are telling us when feeding.

In the past, babies were woken on a set routine to be fed. This increases their chances of having a poor feeding experience, which increases their chances of developing avoidance behaviours around feeding. In addition, a tired baby is unlikely to be at their best when trying to co-ordinate their suck-swallow-breathe cycle, which puts them at increased risk for aspiration (milk entering the airway and lungs), which can lead to infection.


One of the jobs of babies is to sleep, especially premature babies whose brains and bodies have not finished developing. Waiting for feeding cues before oral feeds means that babies are likely to be at their best and most alert for attempting feeding.

Feeding cues are split into early, mid and late cues. The ideal is that we catch babies early, before they start to become agitated, when it will be harder for them to focus on their feeding skills.

The cues are below.


Try watching your baby and see if they are showing any of these cues before you start an oral feed. In our next post we'll be covering signs that our babies might show us that tell us they need to stop feeding.

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information. They are not intended to, and cannot take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language Therapist who knows your child. Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance.