Playing Detective with your Baby’s Cues: What are they trying to say to you?

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We think that babies, especially tiny newborns, don’t have any means of communicating with us other than by crying. However, your baby is trying to communicate with you before they cry.

Responsive parenting is something we talk about in Munchkins – following your babies cues so that you can meet their needs before they burst into tears. (Note how I said “needs”. New babies don’t have wants, they only have needs.)

Have you heard of Dunstan’s Baby Language? This is a fascinating idea from Priscilla Dunstan, who is incredibly gifted, to say that all babies make certain noises as reflexes. They are telling you what they need, if only you could listen! Have a watch of this video, it’s great:

All the different sounds you could listen for are quite tricky, but does your baby make the “Neh” sound when they are hungry, or the “Ow” sound when they are tired?

I saw this video before my second baby was born and I don’t think I ever really got the hang of spotting the sounds – I hope you have more luck than I did!

What other cues might a baby make?

  • Ear pulling = may mean tiredness
  • Gaze aversion = may mean tiredness/over-stimulation. If they look away they probably need a break
  • Pulling up legs = could be wind, but can also be a reflex action when a baby is upset!
  • Going red = they could be hot, but they could also be red from crying
  • Sticking tongue out / rooting = hungry. If they try and eat you or their hands they are probably hungry!

This certainly isn’t a definitive list. All babies are different and you might have worked out very different cues for your baby. The important thing is that the better you become at spotting these cues, the easier it’ll be to soothe your baby before they scream.

However, some babies seem to fly straight off the handle and don’t give you much time to notice their cues. Like adults, some babies are more laid back than others. If you have a laid back baby, they will probably spend more time making little signals to you, giving you a decent chance to realise what their problem is. The more feisty baby will scream at the slightest provocation – it’s not you, it’s them!

If you are a new parent, particularly if it’s your first time, you might be a bit anxious about all this. You won’t get it right all the time. Even when they are older and can tell you what’s wrong, you still won’t handle it correctly every time. I still manage to upset my children without meaning to on a fairly regular basis! Babies do cry, and even with the best will in the world there will be plenty of times when you haven’t got a clue what they are crying about. But just do a little bit of detective work and see if you can spot any pre-crying cues. It’s pretty awesome if you can!


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