Our babies are born ready to connect, engage and learn. As a new parent it can be hard initially to decipher their nonverbal language into something that we instantly understand.
Babies use their voice, sounds, facial expressions, arm and leg movements to get their message across to you. This method of communicating is known as baby cues. A baby’s ultimate goal is to try and tell you what they do and don’t like and what they are wanting you to do for them.
Responding to your baby cues will help your baby develop a sense of trust and form a secure attachment to you. It’s an important prerequisite for later emotional development and relationships, your responsiveness will help your baby to learn and understand how we as humans have control over our emotions.
As you soothe your baby, you are teaching them that when they are upset, they are able to calm down. If the baby’s signals are ignored and they then escalate to cries that are not responded to they fail to develop an understanding of how emotions can be regulated.
THE 4 MAIN CUES YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
#1: GIVE ME FOOD
Babies give a lot of subtle cues that they are ready to feed, long before they begin to cry. When they are hungry the crying part is actually a late cue to let you know they need food now!
Some of the earlier cues you should watch out for are:
- Making sucking noises
- Trying to eat their fists
Ideally its best to feed bubs before they get to the yelling stage as once, they reach this point you may find it hard to get them to latch on properly and feed enough. Usually they will fall asleep exhausted from crying before having had enough of a feed, this can then result in a shorter sleeping time and can have an effect on your milk supply.
On the other hand, if you feed your baby when you see early feeding cues, they will feed efficiently, draining your supply effectively. Resulting in a longer more settled sleep with a nice fully tummy.
#2: CAN YOU PLAY WITH ME
Believe it or not your tiny baby does have a short period of time where they can actually engage with you, before wanting to go back to sleep again. As your baby grows they will have longer periods of time where they will want to play. It’s then that the signals become much clearer but for now here are some signs your newborn wants to play:
- Eyes will become wider and brighter
- Presses lips together and turns towards your voice
- Smooth arm and leg movements reaching out to you
- Grasping at your finger or clothing
#3: I NEED A BREAK
When your baby needs a break from what they are doing they will give you disengagement signals.
These may be:
- Looking or turning their head away from you
- Arching their back
- Stiffening posture
- Squirming around
- Some babies may even put their hands up to you in a “stop” like manner. Cute!!!
- Red Eyebrows
If you keep playing when your baby is trying to you that they have had enough, they’ll then become agitated and make thrashing movements, or will start fussing and crying.
#4: I’M SLEEPY
This is an important cue to not “go beyond the point of no return”. Put your baby to bed as soon as they are showing signs, they want to sleep.
- Becoming quiet and still
- Losing interest in people and toys
- Making jerking movements
- Yawning or Frowning
- Clenching their fists into tight balls
- Rubbing their eyes and ears and fussing
- Red eyebrows
- Stiffening posture
If you end up missing that window, your baby is likely to find it more difficult to settle and fall asleep.
Although these baby cues are typical signs that most babies use, they may not show all or the same signals each time they are wanting to sleep. Each baby has their own unique way, they will develop their own mix of signals.
As you play with your baby you will often notice a mixture of engagement and disengagement signals, so take your time getting to know your baby’s way of communicating when they are enjoying playtime, when they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and need a break, and when they are becoming hungry or tired.
Your baby’s signals may seem unclear in the early stages, but by spending lots of time just watching your baby and being present with them, along with some trial and error working out what your baby is telling you, you will soon become attuned to each other. Your baby will develop their own unique way of communicating with each person in their little world and you and your partner will learn to respond in the way that is right for you and your family.