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Understanding Baby Language

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Understanding the inner workings of your #newborn's mind are important to the development of your #relationship with them. The first point of #communication your newborn will display is through their innate #cues, also known as facial expressions, body movements, sounds, or cries. This is natures way of how a newborn indicates what they need from you at any given stage.

In 1950, a psychologist and psychoanalyst named Erik Erikson, published his theory on the 8 Stages of Psychological Development in humans. The first stage he discusses is known as Trust vs. Mistrust which begins at #birth and continues to approximately 18 months of age. This is where a newborn attempts to adapt to their new world, while learning whether or not they can trust or mistrust their surroundings. They look to their primary #careprovider or #parents for stability and consistency. An important aspect to developing this trust, is learning how to read their cues and respond accordingly to meet their needs.

With this said, I've put a list together of common cues that I witness as a #maternity #nurse on the daily to make your life as a parent, a little easier. I have provided the description of the cue or action, and a suggestion as to how parents could respond:


When a newborn is approaching their #feeding time and begins to display signs of #hunger, it is first demonstrated in a very subtle way. However, if you aren't catching onto their early or mid #feedingcue signs, this can escalate quickly as they move into #hangry mode or late signs. If your newborn enters, the late signs, it can be difficult to console them, or even initiate feeding, which is why it's important to be mindful of their initial signals and respond sooner, rather than later.

Early feeding signs: Baby opening their eyes and mouth, looking around, stirring or gently moving.

Mid-feeding signs: #Rooting or opening their mouth while turning their head in search of the nipple, #handsucking, or #liplicking, and increased body movements

Late-feeding signs: #Crying, agitated body movement, and turning red from frustration


YOUR RESPONSE : #Latch them at #breast or #bottlefeed depending on your chosen mode of feeding, you may also offer your newborn a finger to suck on, or #pacifier, as a temporary means to #soothe them, while they are waiting for you to get yourself ready.


#startlereflex is usually seen when your newborn is laying flat on their back, for example, during a #diaperchange. When their arms hit the wide open, unfamiliar space, they perceive they are falling. Feeling a strong sense of panic and fear, their arms begin flailing around and they start to frantically cry, as they try to find stability and security in their new environment. Surely you can imagine how scary this feeling of falling, is to them.

YOUR RESPONSE: If you have a #partner around during a diaper change, you can have them hold your baby's arms across their chest or to their sides, so they feel a sense of security. Likewise you can, pick them up and hold them firmly and close to your chest to achieve the same result. You may even place them #skintoskin with you, as your newborn will find it re-assuring and calming to hear the familiar sounds of your heartbeat and voice. Choosing to temporarily place them on their tummy's while in their #bassinet or on your lap can be effective too, however, this is not safe for unsupervised #sleep or prolonged periods of #tummytime, but rather short sessions to calm them. #Swaddling them in a receiving blanket is also a great technique to help soothe these fears, since they are in search for any #womb-like experience - that tight, cozy, safe space that they lived in for 9 months. Once again, remember that swaddling is only safe for supervised sleep, where you will be awake and able to ensure they are safe in their #blankets.


Digestive upset is one of the biggest reasons your newborn will fuss and cry. I often find parents don't catch on too easily to this one right away. There are a few indications your newborn may have some tummy pain and will need you to comfort, burp, and sooth them. they are as follows:

Mucous Moan & Facial Grimace: When a newborn enters the world after being #delivered via #Csection or fast with a few pushes vaginally, they tend to swallow a lot of #amnioticfluid a.k.a. mucous on the way out. This can sit heavily in their tummy causing a lot of sensitivity and nausea. Lasting anywhere from 1-3 days, this can be a major reason why your newborn is uninterested in feeding and needs a good #burping. These little babes tend to make a "mucous moan" that sounds like "mmmm mmmm mmm", and is often paired with a facial #grimace (frowning their lips/ furrowing their brow) or showing little bubbles of saliva at their mouth. They tend to throw up this mucous, or pass it with a few bowel movements, but it's a process that you can definitely help with (See below). A grimace, while bearing down, can also indicate a bowel movement is occurring, so check for a diaper change too :)

Tummy Gurgling: You may start to hear active bowel sounds as their gas and tummy contents move through their intestines. I usually find when your #newborn lets out a high pitched scream out of nowhere, this means they may have some trapped #gas.

Gulping: The gulp is often difficult for parents to recognize, as they mistake it for #hungercues. Here the baby may be opening their mouth, while swallowing. They are not actively looking and #rooting for the breast, but are instead gulping to keep their mucous, or digestive contents, from coming up. I compare this cue to a cat, trying to pass a hairball. As the newborn gulps, they sound as if they are "beat boxing", but in actual fact they are foreshadowing the need to throw up what's been bothering them. In this moment, many #parents will try to #breastfeed their baby, in an attempt to soothe their hunger cues. The baby may push off and cry or resist, which is usually an indication they need a good burp instead.

The gag: This occurs when your newborn is really struggling to keep their mucous or stomach contents down, and need to throw it up. This can be challenging for them to do, as they are lying still on their back or side, without the ability to use their body to thrust forward and cough it out. You may find it looks like thy are gagging or even making a choking face or sound, while squeezing their eyes shut. In this situation, it is very important you act quickly. Put them into a seated position on your lap and bring them forward while facing down to have gravity work in your favor to bring it out. At the same time firmly and vigorously rub and pat their back. Don't be alarmed if they bring up a large quantity of thick, clear amniotic fluid, or if actively #breastfeeding, yellow contents from your #colostrum, white contents from #breastmilk, or even a cream color that denotes undigested #formula.


With any of the above options, you should choose to respond by #burping them. You can firmly rub or pat their back while using a cupped hand and stabilizing their face using the other, as they sit on your lap. You may also gently rock them side to side and/or back and forth, to get their bowels moving to allow their #gas to escape. Providing skin to skin, can even be effective when they are mucousy, as your body will help reduce the amniotic fluid in their body through the absorption into your skin. Sitting them in an elevated posture after a feeding, or even elevating the head of their bed, by placing a wedge underneath their mattress, can prove to be effective in aiding with digestion. You may also provide your nipple, a clean finger, or even a pacifier for your newborn to suck on for comfort and a means to alleviate their pain. This is one of the ways they know how to soothe themselves. You may notice this behavior, when they commonly cry and want to return to the #breast frequently a.k.a. #clusterfeeding. When they do, you may find they are simply playing with your #nipple verses actively #sucking and drinking, or fall asleep shortly after starting.



When your #newborn is tired they are often #fussy or irritable, and may even be difficult to soothe, fighting your every effort to put them to #sleep. You may notice them yawning, turning their head away from the breast or bottle, arching their back, or as they develop, they may rub their eyes and begin staring into space.

YOUR RESPONSE: There are a variety of comfort techniques to choose from. You can allow them to soothe themselves on your nipple, while you cuddle them, until they fall asleep. You may even use a clean finger, or a #pacifier to allow them to soothe themselves on it while drifting to sleep, depending on your personal views of use. I find holding them firmly in your arms, while gently rocking them to be effective as well. You may try rhythmically patting their bum or back, while performing a shush shush shush noise to mimic the familiar sound of blood flowing through the placenta. Remember newborns love movement. So even try these techniques while walking with them tightly in your arms, and bouncing your arms and knees as a slow rhythmic pace.

If they are sleeping in their bassinet, you can try to mimic the tightness and security of the womb by #swaddling them on their back (if sleep is being supervised), or even creating a "#womb-like" environment in their #bassinet, with a small blanket rolled and placed around their bottom half, allowing them to feel snug and tucked in. If using a top sheet, it should remain below their armpit/nipple line and tucked underneath the mattress around them. Remember however, that although this may get them to fall asleep, it is not recommended for #safesleep.

With any of the cues, it may take a little time to recognize them and identify what it is your #newborn is asking of you. In any case, it's important to be patient with yourself as you're learning. Give yourself the time and support to work through the trials and errors of responding to them, and before you know it, you'll know them better than anyone else!

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