11 Important Baby Cues
How moms can decode baby signals like smiling, copying mom and dad, eye rubbing, and crying, so they can respond to their babies and bond with them.
One of the most frustrating parts of being a new parent is feeling clueless about your baby's wants and needs. Does a soft, whimpering cry mean he's got a wet diaper -- or that he's getting hungry? What about a loud screech? And forget about crying for a moment -- what does it mean when your baby rubs her ears, or flails her arms around?
Babies communicate long before they say their first words, says Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at University of California, Davis, and author of Baby Signs. "Babies are born with the ability to express several emotions, including distress and contentment," she says. When we read their cues and respond quickly to their needs, she adds, babies feel secure and the parent-child bond is strengthened. Of course, easier said than done -- not all babies send the exact same signals, and sometimes it takes months before you feel truly in tune with your baby. Still, some general principles apply. Read on for expert advice on how to decode three major types of baby cues.
Little frowns, wrinkled foreheads -- your baby's expressions can be fleeting and easy to miss, admits David Hill, M.D., adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at University of North Carolina Medical School. "Compared to crying, facial expressions are certainly more subtle," he says. Watch closely, however, and you'll soon catch these familiar expressions:
A baby who turns his face away from you needs a break from eye contact. "From about two months on, babies disconnect if they're feeling overwhelmed or over stimulated," says Dr. Acredolo. "Sometimes, the baby will turn his head to the side almost stubbornly, or play with his fingers or toes, or even start crying -- anything to break contact with an adult."
What to do: New parents sometimes get overenthusiastic when interacting with baby, says Dr. Acredolo. "These parents will try moving into their baby's line of sight even if the infant has turned away, or they may keep talking, tickling or jostling to win back their baby's attention," she says. Respect your baby's need for down time, and wait patiently and quietly until he turns back to you. "Then, smile broadly and re-engage with your baby," she says.