Although newborns can’t talk, they are still perfectly able to communicate with us right from birth.
In essence, they use their facial expression and body language to let us know their needs and emotions.
Now, it is not always easy to figure out what they are trying to say, but there are some typical signals you can look for to get a good sense of what they mean.
With time, you will be able to read different types of body movements, hear a variety of cries, and you will be able to spot different grimaces on their face and take appropriate action.
But until you do, here are a few classic baby cues to look out for that may help you figure out what your baby is trying to tell you.
What Is My Baby Trying To Tell Me?
Babies are natural communicators who express their needs and feelings using special baby language – body movements and facial expressions. At first, they will be doing plenty of crying, which can be of different sounds or intensity. Also, it can mean a range of things, such as that baby is tired, hungry, uncomfortable, in pain or overstimulated. Very often, crying comes with additional signals that can help you determine the cause of the distress. If you pay attention to these cues, you can work out what your baby is trying to tell you and respond to it appropriately.
Crying is a newborn’s primary way of expressing their needs, and as painful as it may be, it is also perfectly normal. You will soon discover that different types of cries have different sounds and different meanings. These cries are usually accompanied by facial expressions and physical language that offer more specific clues to the parent trying to figure out what’s wrong.
When your baby cries, you should respond promptly to comfort and reassure her that her feelings are acknowledged and taken care of.
There will be times when you are unable to find the cause of the baby’s crying. And it is also perfectly normal, even though it can be frustrating for both parties at times.
1.1 “I Am Hungry”
Newborns and young babies need to feed often, usually every 3 hours, but, of course, this can vary between babies. Furthermore, it is not unusual for young babies to nurse every hour from time to time. Thus, observing your baby’s hunger cues can help you determine when the next feed is due.
A hunger cry is a low-pitched, steady, repetitive noise accompanied by other signals. These signals are rooting for the nipple, rotating the head from side to side, licking lips, or sucking hands. Babies will often clench their fists, and their whole bodies will tense up. Often, hungry babies will try to latch on to whatever comes near their faces – parents’ hands, necks, noses or clothes.
These are clear signs that your little one is hungry, and without any delay, you should feed her. Furthermore, hungry babies tend to gulp air when sucking their milk, which would result in trapped gas, spitting, and ultimately – even more crying!
1.2 “I Am Tired, And I Want To Sleep”
Getting tired and needing to sleep is also a common reason for babies to cry. Remember, they still need around 18 hours of sleep a day.
So, before you hear a continuous whine that builds up in volume, you should look for several cues that signal tiredness.
Rubbing and touching their eyes or cheeks, blinking, yawning, clenching their fists tight, or starting to stare into the distance – are particular signs that they are tired.
You should not delay putting a tired baby to bed. If you don’t do this right away, you’ll have an overtired baby that’s much harder to put to sleep.
1.3 “I Am Uncomfortable”
The crying is irritable and irregular and often accompanied by fidgeting or restlessness. When in doubt, always check whether the diaper needs changing, as it may be the reason for discomfort.
Another possible cause is that your baby is either too hot or too cold. To check your baby’s temperature, touch her belly or the back to see if you need to add extra layers or remove excess clothing.
- If the baby is cold, you may observe quivering bottom lip and goosebumps on her body. Naturally, it is best to wrap her up in a blanket to warm her up. You may also give her skin-to-skin contact, which will not only heat her body but will also calm her down.
- If she is hot, she will have flushed cheeks, a sweaty face, and might even pant instead of breathing. She is probably overdressed or exposed to the too hot environment. You should take her to a cool place and remove a few layers of clothing to address this issue. Although it is worth checking her temperature to ensure it is not a fever, which would indicate an infection.
1.4 “I Need A Burp”
Newborn babies need burping frequently in the first weeks of their life. Burping helps get rid of the air that the baby swallows during feeding. This trapped air is causing discomfort in their tummy, which can manifest itself by whining and squeaking or irritated cry. Other symptoms of distress may include kicking their legs, arching their backs or scrunching their knees up.
Often they can spit up milk with every burp, which means they need burping more regularly.
Failing to relieve trapped gas will result in them fussing, squirming, or even refusing to eat. Often, babies would wake up after only a few minutes of sleep to expel trapped air after a feed. Because of this, you should release their gas as soon as they wake up.
1.5 “I Am Overstimulated”
Young babies can only handle a short play session because they are easily overstimulated. They are fussy and whiny when they are overstimulated. They will seem exhausted and start to push you away or look away from overstimulating objects.
The best way to relieve their distress is to move them away from excessive stimuli such as noisy toys, flashing lights. Take them to a quiet place and gently pat their back to calm them down.
1.6 “I Am In Pain”
The sound of cry is so heart-breaking, that you will recognize it right away – the loud, hysterical bursts that come with no warning. Pain cries are usually accompanied by the baby becoming rigid and tense or by scrunching up their knees. The little grimaced face will also speak volumes. There is no rocket science here – you have to identify and remove the source of pain to soothe the baby.
A monotonous, weak, and quiet cry indicates that she might be getting sick because she cannot make loud noises. In most cases, such cries are accompanied by fever, so you should consult a paediatrician for further advice.
1.7 “I Am Bored”
You may find that your baby craves your company if she is bored or lonely. Therefore, if one moment your baby is happily babbling and cooing away, and the next moment she starts getting fussy, or bursts into tears – you should not ignore her. Pick up your baby, and the crying will stop as soon as you do that. Spend time with her, copy her sounds or mimic her expressions. Stick your tongue out to play with her. Hopefully, she will start emulating your behaviour once she figures out how to do it 😉
2. Body Movements
In addition to crying, which is one of the most common and obvious ways for the baby to communicate with you, there are other typical baby cues.
Often, these signals have more than one meaning. Depending on the circumstances and accompanying behaviours (both body language and facial expressions), you need to decide how to interpret them correctly.
You will find a quick guide to the baby’s body language and its possible meanings below.
|BODY CUES||WHAT’ DOES THIS MEAN?|
Uncomfortable (colic, reflux)
|LIFTING LEGS SCRUNCHED-UP KNEES||Need burping
Digestion problem (gas, constipation)
|SUCKING ON HER FINGER OR FIST||Hunger
|GRABBING OR PULLING EARS||hunger
Discomfort or pain (caused by ear infection)
Just discovering her body part
|ROTTING HEAD||Hunger – rooting for a nipple
|JERKING ARMS||Frightened - startle reflex
Excited and want to play
|CONSTANT KICKING||Excited and want to play
Digestion or tummy ache
3. Facial Expressions
As with body language, there are some common facial expressions you may see in your baby. Here is a guide to help you understand them.
|FACIAL EXPRESSION CUES||WHAT DOES THIS MEAN|
|EYE CONTACT||Fascinated and want to play|
|GURGLING OR BABBLING AWAY||Good mood|
|LOOKING AWAY||Tired, sleepy
|PAIN EXPRESSION||Need burping
Discomfort or pain
|PULLING MOUTH IN “O” SHAPE||Excited and want to play|
Final Few Lines
It may seem overwhelming at first to decode your baby’s messages, but don’t give up. Unless you are experienced parents, it is impossible to get it right straight away – it takes time to observe your baby behaviour and learn these subtle signs and messages.
So, watch your baby closely to pick up on her facial expressions and behaviour, and you will become fluent in the baby’s talk in no time!
The primary needs of newborns are to sleep, eat, and have a clean diaper. So, chances are these are the issues your baby is trying to communicate with you most often. If you master these – you are halfway there 😉
As your baby grows, she will also become a more effective communicator. As a result, it will enable you to understand what she needs more efficiently and precisely. Thus, you will be able to respond to her needs, and understand what her feelings are.
Ultimately, it will help you provide your baby with the best care possible so you can build a strong bond with your child.