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6 Things Your Baby Would Tell You

Babies can be so adept at letting us know what they don't like. The first (and last) time my husband gave our daughter ham from a baby-food jar, for instance, she thrust it back at him with her tongue and gagged in disgust. In case that was unclear, she proceeded to turn purple with fury and scream herself hoarse.

Even though she was just 8 months old, she could not have made her opinion any more clear.

Communication with a baby isn't always so cut-and-dried. As parents, we wonder what our infants' secret chortles are all about, what they see in a shaft of light or the corner of a room that's so fascinating, and why, oh why they cry.

You won't be able to interpret every gurgle and squeal your baby makes in the first year. But here are a few things we're sure he'd tell you if he could:

"I'm not always hungry when I cry"
Cynthia Werry of San Jose, California, loves being a first-time mom to Alex, now 1. But when it comes to food, she's stumped. "It seems like I'm always trying to guess what he needs," she says. "The other day he clamped his jaw shut like a steel trap. I said, 'Should I believe you? It's been three hours; you're really not hungry?'"

The debate about whether our kids are hungry is one we all engage in from the time they're born until we send them off to college (actually, my mom still seems obsessed with whether I'm taking my vitamins and eating too much sugar). Though there are lots of personal choices to make, experts agree on one issue: If your baby is otherwise healthy and his actions suggest he's not hungry (he turns away from food, he ate an hour ago and seemed full then), believe him.

Feeding too much and pushing a full baby to keep eating isn't good for him. If he cries when it's not a mealtime, try to figure out if there's something else bothering him before pulling out a bottle or the pureed peas.

If he turns up his nose at food, you can do what Werry did. "When I sat back and looked Alex over, it was pretty obvious he wasn't going to wither away. So we put the food away and moved on."

Jana Murphy, a mom of three and aunt of 25, is the author of The Secret Lives of Toddlers.

"Give me a turn when we talk"

You've no doubt heard how important it is to talk to your baby. She may not seem to have much to add to the conversation, but that doesn't mean you have to keep up a steady monologue.

What does a chat with a baby sound like? You might make an observation about the state of her diaper, wait for a kick or a wiggle or a gurgle in reply, then answer, "Do you really think so?" or "I had no idea!" It might feel silly to wait for a response that might be just a grunt or a grin, but it's worth it.

Even babies as young as 3 months old can hold up their end of a nonverbal conversation, says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., coauthor of How Babies Talk. "You do something and your baby does something, and even very early, she's beginning to grasp the rudiments of conversation skills and turn-taking," she says. You'll be doing your baby a favor if you can wait patiently for her to respond to you (in her own baby way) instead of rushing to fill the silence, Hirsh-Pasek says. "Babies are on a slightly different timetable than we are. They need to have those moments when the focus is on them and they get to be the ones to make the next move."

"No shoes, thanks"
Those teeny, tiny Mary Janes. The infant oxfords. And those miniature sandals! They're all just so darned cute. Too bad your baby wants them off. The truth is, most shoes aren't good for your baby's little feet. Up until she begins to walk, your infant's tootsies are all about curling, bending, stretching, and maybe occasionally getting chewed on. What podiatrists say is simple, and right in tune with every baby who has ever balled up her toes in protest of having them pushed into hard-soled loafers: Babies who aren't walking don't need shoes. In fact, restrictive footwear can even slow normal development. It's a little wish  -- but a heartfelt one  -- that babies would like soft-soled slippers, booties, nonskid socks, or just plain bare feet rather than all the high-fashion footwear that looks so good on the department-store shelf. There'll be plenty of time for that anyway.

"Don't make me just sit here"

I was a hopelessly inexperienced mom with my firstborn, and I handled Brendan with great care, almost always cradled in both arms, worried I might bend him the wrong way. My mother-in-law, Bernice, had no such worries. She'd raised eight kids of her own and already had 13 grandchildren, with more on the way. I remember handing Brendan off to her when he was fussy and watching with fascination as she moved his little body fearlessly  -- stretching him out on the kitchen table to have a good look at him, sitting him up straight so they could be eye to eye, and finally, after this assessment, laying him facedown across both her knees and jiggling him from side to side, much to his delight. Babies adore opportunities to feel the full range of their small bodies, says Helen Garabedian, author of Itsy Bitsy Yoga and mom of a toddler. In the yoga classes she teaches, moms help their babies stretch and move their arms and legs. Invariably, she says, the babies are alert and content during and after the exercises.

"Sing to me!"
Calynne Brockway, a nurse in Cooperstown, New York, started singing to charm, soothe, amuse, and connect with each of her four children before they were even born. Most recently, her main audience is her 10-month-old daughter, Aleigha. Her kids have been treated to melodies ranging from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to "Get the Party Started," with a song for every mood or special occasion.

Singing to your baby is more than just entertainment: Exposure to music may benefit a child's mind and accelerate early language development. What your baby loves about your singing, though, is the sound of your voice, the flow of a melody, and the unique attention she gets when you croon just for her. The music you sing may help you tap into your baby's emotions, whether she's feeling relaxed or silly. She doesn't care if you can't carry a tune, either: Your voice is still the sweetest sound.

"I want you to be happy"

Babies want to be content, and hardly anything, aside from a clean diaper and a full belly, makes them feel more relaxed than when you're feeling good, too.

Emotions are highly contagious, even among people who don't share a bond as close as that of parent and child. You know how the surly supermarket clerk can make you grumpy? The same goes for your baby's reaction to you. So if you do what it takes for you to feel good, your baby's likely to pick up on your mood and feel just as contented. Don't be concerned, though: All babies are inevitably exposed to their parents in their best and worst moods, and your baby loves and depends on you no matter what your frame of mind. You can't always be chipper, but if what you need is a break, take it. If music or a walk or a nice dinner makes you smile, indulge. Your baby wants you to.