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Understanding Your Baby’s Cues

Babies have many ways of communicating their needs, many are much more subtle than crying. Most parents are taught to respond to crying and attempt to work out what their baby is crying about. However, crying is a very general signal. It can mean hunger, nappy change, sleepy, bored, over-stimulated, feeling unwell, the list goes on. Earlier cues are much more specific to your babies needs, eliminating a lot of guess-work. 


Learning to pick up on your baby’s cues is beneficial for both baby and parents. For baby, it helps them to feel relaxed because they’re confident that someone will react to them quickly without them needing to kick up a fuss. For parents, it improves your confidence because you are more in-tune with your baby. Plus, you’re more likely to spend less time listening to screeching!

Baby Hunger Cues

Crying is a late cue for hunger. Crying is your baby’s way of demanding food because it’s not being given quick enough, your baby is feeling the need to cry out for someone to bring food in case they starve (pretty much the definition of “hangry”). Minutes before their crying episode, your baby may have been giving these hunger cues:

  1. Rooting. This is when your baby opens their mouth and moves their head in search of a nipple or bottle to latch onto. 
  2. Lip-smacking. Your baby may have been simulating feeding.
  3. Sucking on their fist. Because maybe everything that’s round, soft and fleshy produces milk? #babylogic
  4. Sticking their tongue out. Their tongue will stick slightly out when they have a good latch on your breast or a bottle, so they do this just to get ready to latch on enthusiastically. 
  5. If you’re breastfeeding, your baby may pull on your clothes and try to move into the feeding position. 

Crying is the latest cue if none of the above has yielded results for your baby. Babies who consistently reach the crying stage before being fed are more likely to have an insufficient latch. If you’re breastfeeding this will have a negative impact on your milk supply because your baby’s latch is not strong enough to efficiently empty your breast or to stimulate your hormones which create more milk. (Check out our post all about breastfeeding for more on the topic.) Crying to be fed can also lead to babies being too tired to feed properly. If your baby is exhausted from crying they may fall asleep after only feeding for a short time. This causes them to wake up hungry after a very short sleep, starting the cycle again.

Baby Boredom Cues

In our last blog, we discussed how to entertain your newborn, these are your cues to put those tips into action! 

Young babies have very small windows of time when they can engage and interact with you, however as they grow, they will want to spend more time being entertained by you. When a young baby wants to play with you they might give these cues: 

  1. Their eyes will appear wide and bright.
  2. They may purse their lips as if to say “oooh”. 
  3. Their movements will be relaxed and smooth, their limbs will move gently rather than jerky startled motions.
  4. They might reach out to touch your face or your hands.

When you respond to their cues they may smile, laugh, babble, imitate your facial expressions and mimic the sounds you’re making. This time is great for their development as they’re learning to make facial expressions, to read emotions and building a foundation for speech.

“Give me a break” Cues

The world is a very mentally stimulating place for a young baby. Even small everyday tasks can seem fascinating to them. With all of this learning and observing, they can sometimes experience information overload. Just like they give you “let’s play” cues, they also give you “okay, stop now” cues. Signs that you should give your baby a break include:

  1. Being reluctant to make eye contact.
  2. Kicking. 
  3. Coughing.
  4. Yawning.
  5. Frowning.
  6. Wrinkling their forehead. 

You can also try changing the pace of your activities to a more relaxing activity for your baby. If you don’t adjust or stop playing when given these signals your baby might become fussy and even cry. Don’t take it too personally (although it may feel like you’ve just been boo-ed off stage at an open-mic night), your baby just needs some time to digest everything they’ve learned today.

Baby Sleep Cues

None of us like the feeling of being kept awake when we need sleep. Learning to recognise the early signs of your baby becoming sleepy will make it easier to settle them into a peaceful sleep. Try to get your baby ready for sleep as soon as you notice these cues:

  1. Losing interest in people or toys.
  2. Becoming very still.
  3. Yawning.
  4. Frowning.
  5. Clenching fists.
  6. Rubbing ears.
  7. Rubbing eyes.

If these signals aren’t recognised they’ll move onto crying. A crying baby is much more difficult to settle and may have a restless sleep. Settling your baby into a sleeping environment once you notice the early cues can save you from spending so long settling your fussy sleepy baby. Now, if we could just get someone to respect our own sleep cues!

Getting to know your baby

All of the baby cues we have discussed are guidelines. Every baby is unique and has their own selection of cues. As you care for your baby and try to be proactive in tending to their needs, you will naturally become more aware of their little signals. Being mindful of your baby’s unique mix of signals will help you to respond to them before they have the chance to feel worried or agitated about their needs being met. This means a relaxed baby, more relaxed parents and caregivers, as well as the confidence that comes with feeling like you can read your baby like a book!

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