Understanding Baby Cues
New 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
- 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
- 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.