Understanding Baby Cues

baby eye rubNew parents have a heck of a time figuring out what their baby is trying to tell them. Usually, they will choose to run the gantlet: feed the baby, change the baby, burp the baby, and put the baby down for a nap. However, if you take the time to read the cues that your child gives when he or she needs something, you can skip a lot of the frustration and have a happier baby. Here are some common baby wants and their associated cues.


If your baby is hungry and crying, then they have already moved well past the stage where they have been trying to tell you that they need to eat. It is much easier to feed a mildly hungry baby who is still calm, than one who is extremely agitated. For newborns, start looking for cues every 1 to 2 hours or every 3 to 4 hours for an older baby. Here are some common “I'm hungry” cues:

  • Yawning, stretching
  • Smacking lips or sucking sounds
  • Fist in mouth
  • When sleeping, rapid eye movement
  • Waving hands

Most babies will use the same cues, so once you know what you're looking for, you'll understand when your baby is trying to tell you that they're hungry.


In the beginning, it is pretty easy to tell when your baby needs a nap, because he or she will usually eat and then fall asleep. As your baby ages and is able to stay awake for longer periods of time, it may be more difficult to tell when it's nap time. Some babies will follow a schedule and will sleep at approximately the same time every day. Others will not, and it will be up to mom or dad to determine when your baby is tired. Here are some cues to indicate nap time:

  • Eye-rubbing or yawning
  • Fussing or whining, which increases in volume
  • Frowning
  • Sucking on fingers
  • Becoming irritable
  • Ignoring attempts at distraction

It is important that when your baby starts giving cues for nap time that you act on them quickly, as an over-tired baby will be much more difficult to get to sleep.


Believe it or not, there will be times when your baby wants nothing but your attention. By starting good attention habits at an early age – by giving your baby attention for positive behavior – it will help to lead to better behavior as they grow up. Here are some common cues that indicate that your baby wants to play with you:

  • Holding perfectly still while watching you
  • Studying your face and making eye contact
  • Reaching out
  • Wide eyes, following your movements
  • Smiling
  • Babbling or cooing

Give your baby positive attention by getting down on their level and playing with toys or reading a story. If you are in the middle of something (like making dinner), you can give your baby attention by telling him or her what you are doing or responding to what he or she is playing with or doing.

What do you think?

Understanding Baby Cues

Tell us what you think!


  1. Profile photo of Tangee Tangee says:

    My baby girl put herself on a schedule and it’s very nice! I’m pretty good at figuring out what she wants right away she knows how to tell me but there are times that she’s fussy it seems for no reason so we go outside and everything is all better!

  2. Profile photo of Jaxe Jaxe says:

    I think every child is different and yes I’ve been on a schedule will help I will feed my children when they’re hungry because not all that time is that schedule how things really are

  3. Profile photo of Mommy Mommy says:

    Having my son on a schedule has helped a great deal. I know when he should be getting hungry and it voids any crying

  4. my baby does the same thing but i think thats a sign of excitment the sign for hungry is start at about the collar bone and slide down with your hand like food sliding down the throat its hard to describe lol

  5. Profile photo of Grace Grace says:

    my son moves his fingers to say hungry, which i think is sign language for more, does anybody know if i’m right about that?

  6. Profile photo of Lulu Lulu says:

    I got most of her cues down. There are one or two in the article that I didn’t realize before but now I know, totally understand.

  7. Profile photo of Jeanetta Jeanetta says:

    I’m glad I read this because I didn’t realize rapid eye movement when sleeping, and waving hands was a cue that my daughter is hungry.

  8. I hope I can learn to understand her cues. I was thinking about maybe teaching her baby sign language 🙂

  9. Profile photo of DH DH says:

    I have most of his cues down for the most part


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