Decoding your baby’s body language

The first interplay between you and your baby is the subtle newborn talk and body language she’ll display to let you know how she’s feeling. Here’s how to decode the signals she sends you. By Sister Ann Richardson.

From the minute your baby is born, each of her senses – hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting work together to form a complete picture of what’s going on around her. Your baby will respond, through body language and behaviour, in one of four ways to this stimulation and let you know exactly how she’s feeling. Let’s explore these special signals.

Approach signals

When she’s happy and inviting interaction, she’ll display the following approach signals:

  • Smiling or mouthing ‘ooh’ face with a relaxed but alert expression and eye contact.
  • Cooing, smiling, and laughing while turning towards sounds and visual stimuli.
  • Relaxed limbs with smooth body movements.
  • Show interest in feeding.

Warning signals

When she begins to feel a bit stressed from sensory input, she’ll behave in a way that will help her to calm down by displaying the following warning signals:

  • Hands clasped together on her face or in a tight fist
  • Excessive mouthing on finger, hand, dummy, breast, bottle, or object
  • Nose picking, fiddling with nappy area, or throwing objects
  • Arched, stiffened back and won’t feed
  • Less eye contact
  • Seeking tactile contact in wanting to be picked up
  • Whining or whimpering
  • Wanting to lie down.

Back-off signals

If you misinterpret the warning or approach signals and don’t remove your little one from the stimulus that’s upset her, or help her to calm down, she’ll let you know with back-off signals. These signs are often misinterpreted as digestive disturbances, colic, boredom, or even missed, and are telling signs that she’s about to cry:

  • She’ll be squirmy and irritable with disorganized and jerky movements often accompanied by sweaty feet.
  • She won’t display any eye contact.
  • She might stare into space with a drowsy look and lack of alertness.
  • She will arch her back and neck appearing to ‘push away’ and often won’t feed.
  • She could frown, fidget, grimace and grunt.
  • You might see tongue thrusting and spitting.
  • She will shield her eyes with splayed hands or fingers.
  • She will yawn or sneeze.
  • There will be more moaning and whining.
  • There will be blueness round the mouth from an increased heartbeat and irregular breathing.

It won’t be long before your baby lets you know she’s in distress by crying.

Click here for tips on decoding your baby’s cries and how to soothe here.

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