At Home with Baby

Baby Body Language: The Basics

Your baby didn’t come packaged with an owner’s manual, but her body language can tell you plenty, including what she wants and needs from you. Some of those early body signals are hard-wired — more instinctual than intentional — but as grows little older she’ll use her body language to communicate a whole lot more. Here’s a quick guide to baby body language.

“One moment my one month old will be almost asleep. Then suddenly, for no reason at all, she’ll fling her arms and legs out and start wailing.”

Your baby is startling in response to a noise or a movement. Try blocking out some of the background noise (a white noise machine works amazingly well) and swaddling your baby in a light-weight blanket so she’ll be less likely to startle herself awake. By the time your baby is five or six months old, your baby will have outgrown this particular reflex and sleeping more soundly. ”

“If my newborn’s face rubs against my shoulder while I’m carrying him across the room, he starts bobbing his head up and down.”

Your baby is bound and determined to find a breast. He’s just a little off when it comes to basic geography. And why not? It’s a strategy that’s served babies since the beginning of time. When babies feel something rubbing the corner of their mouths they open up wide and “root” in the direction of the stroking in the hope that a nipple will magically present itself. And often it does!

“Sometimes my baby and I will be playing with a toy — and then she’ll start fussing and look away.”

That’s her way of saying that, “Hey, it’s been fun, but I’ve had enough.” Respect your baby’s need for a break. See if you can get her down for a nap or — at the very least — put away that too-cool educational toy and ease into a quieter, more soothing activity.

“My baby has this strange habit of breathing really rapidly when he’s excited. And then his feet get in on the act, too.”

Don’t you love the way babies use their entire bodies to express enthusiasm? If only we grownups could cut lose like that a little more often — breathing heavily to say how happy we are when someone we love walks through the door and kicking our feet with joy when our favorite veggie finds its way to the dinner table.

“Sometimes my seven-month-old cries because I can’t get the food to her mouth quickly enough. Other times, I can’t even get her to open her mouth. She’ll turn her face away and ignore me completely.”

Your baby’s appetite varies from one feeding to the next and — like all babies — she knows how to make it perfectly clear when dinner is over. Learn to read and respect your baby’s fullness cues. She’s the best judge of how much food she needs.

“Yesterday, my eight-month-old started acting sleepy during lunch. By the time she finished her lunch, she was completely hysterical. Then she wouldn’t take her nap!”

In the world of babies, there’s tired and then there’s overtired. The secret to getting babies to settle down to sleep is to spot the signs of tiredness before your baby enters the no man’s land of overtiredness: quiet calmness rather than fussiness or frantic crying.