Happy Father’s Day to new dads, seasoned fathers, and experienced grandfathers! Are you caring for a new baby? Do you want to know what the baby is trying to say to you? Here is a little dictionary of baby talk for you!
Engagement Cues/Talk to Me!: When your baby is comfortable and alert, his eyes widen and brighten as they focus on your face. His lips gently purse as his face brightens, as if he were about to say “ooh!” He relaxes, slows his movements, and becomes still. He reaches out or holds on to your finger. He may try to get your finger into his mouth. His movements are smooth and inviting. This is the time to gaze at his face, smile, touch him, pick him up, hold him near your face, and make sweet loving sounds and words to him.
Disengagement Cues/Give Me a Break!: When your baby has had his fill of communicating for the moment, he will begin to signal that his nervous system needs time to process what has happened and re-organize itself. He may yawn or turn his eyes or head away from you. His eyes may become dull or glassy, or close altogether. He may arch his back or twist away. His color may change, becoming either pale, or red, or blotchy. His movements may become edgy or flailing. Sometimes he will spit up, or sneeze, or get the hiccups. Maybe he will scowl or fuss or cry. If he can’t get organized, he may shut everything out completely and just fall asleep. If you notice early cues your baby needs a break, simply looking away and remaining quiet for a moment or two may help him find a way to re-group. Sometimes quietly holding both of his hands close in to his chest will calm him, or providing some gentle pressure to his feet for him to brace his legs against. Wrapping him up snugly or swaddling him in a blanket can help an infant feel secure and “re-organized” inside. Try picking him up and moving rhythmically with him. Soothing noise such as white noise or singing helps some babies calm down. Offering something for him to suck on (a pacifier, fist, or your finger) can help, too.
Hunger Cues/Feed Me!: If your baby begins to get hungry, his tongue may become active, licking his mouth and lips. He may suck on his tongue or lip, or find his hands or a bit of clothing to suck on. When he is actively hungry, his head moves in the direction of anything that may touch his cheek, while he opens his mouth in search of a breast or bottle. He may become fussy and fidgety, and begin to cry if his impatience or his hunger overwhelms him. Feeding him may be easier and more successful if the earlier hunger cues are responded to, than if you wait until your baby is crying, frantic, and has lost control of himself.
Discomfort Cues/Comfort Me!: If your baby becomes uncomfortable from gas, a wet or dirty diaper, loneliness, or fatigue, we will see another set of cues. He may shut his eyes tight, turn his head or wriggle his body, make short, fussy sounds, cry, or flail his arms about. His movements will be less smooth, more jerky. This is the time to check his diaper, try to burp him, offer a soothing tummy rub or tummy-down position to relieve gas, or put him over your shoulder and walk around to settle him into sleep. Some babies will rub their face into your shirt or pull on their ears when they are tired. Every baby finds different comfort-providing techniques helpful. There is not one right way to help your baby be comfortable or go to sleep. Keep trying things out, and find out what works for you and your baby!
Want to see more? Here’s a great video from the folks at Parent Trust for Washington Children: