Wouldn’t life be wonderful if babies were born with the ability to speak? Of course, it would! One of the most frustrating things about parenting is not knowing what the baby wants or needs at any given moment. It becomes a large guessing game that involves a lot of trial and error and normally ends with two very tired and frustrated parents.
Unfortunately, babies are not born with the ability to verbally communicate with the world around them, but they are trying to let everyone know what they need — if we would only pay attention. There are tons of non-verbal cues that babies give their parents every day that are often overlooked.
We think these motions and movements are cute and everyone gushes over them, but we don't see the bigger meaning behind them. Not all of the non-verbal cues are negative as well, some of them are signs that the baby wants a good cuddle or to play, but mom can miss them.
If only there was a sheet to decode what the baby wants or needs when it makes certain gestures and faces. Well, there is now. We have decoded 20 non-verbal cues that the baby is sending out that mom does not want to ignore.
20 Focused And In Control
Newborns only need so many things in life, they need to eat, poop, and to be comforted. So, most of the non-verbal cues that are going to be shown are going to be around a need. Moms who breastfeed often have a hard time knowing how much milk their little one is taking in. There are no measurement signs to show us how many ounces they are taking in.
This means that mom may need to pay attention to non-verbal cues to know when her baby wants more milk. If the baby unlatches but stays completely focused on you and is not distracted, chances are they are not down drinking and they just needed a break.
19 Tight Closed Lips
On the other side of the coin, mom would also really like to know when her baby is done eating. An overfed baby is not a happy baby and it can lead to a lot of uncomfortable stomach issues. The baby can be gassy and have a hard time expelling the extra air. It is very hard to overfeed a breastfed baby, but formula-fed babies can take in too much.
So, when can a mom be really sure that her baby has had enough, and is not just taking a short little ‘eating break?’ Well, the best non-verbal cue that your baby is going to give you is they will close their eyes and pull away. They will likely close their lips tight, and just seem easily distracted. If milk is just pooling in their mouth then they are most likely done.
18 A Little Eye Rub
Sleep is very important for a newborn, and for all babies, as this is beneficial in them growing and developing. A baby who doesn’t get the proper sleep can grow very fussy and the more overtired they get the harder it will be to get them to fall (and stay) asleep. Mom needs to act the moment she suspects her baby is tired.
The earlier mom tries to put her baby to sleep the better chance she has of getting them down before it becomes a fight. Even though they have no words yet, there are many ways the baby tries to tell mom she is tired. The biggest one is that she will rub her eyes. Her eyes may also become a little red and she may appear to be looking out into space. When mom sees these signs, it is time to spring into action.
17 Waving Limbs
I mentioned in the intro that not every non-verbal cue is going to be something negative, sometimes they are happy and positive cues. The happy cues are just as important and need to be attended to. Not much is more adorable than seeing a little baby laying there and watching all of their limbs flail around like crazy, but does this mean anything?
Yes, it means that they want to play with you. They will normally have bright and open eyes and they will wave their arms and legs around because they are just so excited. They will often reach or try and move towards what is exciting them.
16 What To Do When Baby Looks Away
This is all fun and games, but what happens if the baby looks away? If they are engaged and playing and babbling, but suddenly they lose eye contact with you, that likely means that they are bored. A bored baby is one who closes their eyes or looks away from you and refuses to make eye contact.
That simply means that they have lost interest in what you were doing, and they want to do something else. Don’t take this personally, there is a quick fix to this. All mom has to do is change the scenery, change position or even just point the baby somewhere else. Give them something new and different to look at.
15 Reaching Out
It is a sweet day when our little one gets big enough to reach out to us. When they put their hands up to us because they love us and want to be picked up. That non-verbal cue seems pretty simple, but it goes much deeper than that. This is the biggest cue that they want to be comforted. That something is wrong, and they need your attention.
There are many reasons why the baby could feel uncomfortable. Maybe they are starting to get a bit hungry, or they may be frightened, or there may even be someone new in the room that they don’t really know too well. This cue needs to be attended to in order to help your little one feels safe and that their feelings are validated.
14 A Simple Smile
It is important to remember that every baby is different, and cues can vary depending on the individual baby. It is important to pay attention to your baby’s cues and watch out for patterns. One of the best signs that a baby is happy is a smile. This is the biggest non-verbal cue for happiness there is, and it is the same for adults, too.
Newborns do smile, but they don’t do it on purpose, it is normally a gas reflux until they are about two months old. After that, mom may get a glimpse of her baby’s first smile. You will know it is genuine when they are doing it in response to something. If they are looking you in the eyes and you talk to them or make a silly face, and they give you a smile, then it is all for you.
13 Opening And Closing The Hands
It is always fun to watch a baby explore and learn about the world around them. The best is when they start to understand that they have body parts that they can control. When they learn that they have hands and that they can open and shut them. They are amazed at their new ability. However, this skill is also a great way for them to communicate.
They are showing you that they want to engage and interact with the people and the objects around them. This skill actually starts really young, at about six weeks old, and they will soon start experimenting with holding things. If you see your baby communicating this way, try putting something in their hands so they can get used to how their new hands work.
12 Wide Eyes
Ask any mother and they will tell you how they can look into their baby’s eyes forever and never get tired of the view. There is something about those little eyes that seem to speak volumes if we would only listen. Baby’s open their eyes first in the womb, at about 28 weeks gestation, and they may open them shortly after birth to have a look around.
It takes a while for their vision to develop, which is why some of them can look like they are a bit cross-eyed but one day they will focus, and it will be the best day of your life. When a baby maintains eye contact with you, embrace it. This is their way of saying they love and trust you.
11 Can A Face Really Light Up?
It is hard to explain what to look for when we say that a baby’s face while ‘light up’ but the good thing is it is not something that really needs to be explained. It can’t be missed, you walk into the room and their whole face just lights up. This is a universal cue that they love you and they are so excited to see you.
It is important that mom (or dad) responds to this cue and returns the favor. Your baby is showing you that you are their favorite person and you definitely want to let them know that they are your favorite person as well.
10 Crawling Is More Than Just Moving Around
The act of crawling is often taken for granted. Our baby just starts crawling and we think, ‘that’s great, they should be crawling now.’ However, the act of a baby crawling can tell us a lot. Pay attention the next time your baby goes on a crawling marathon and observe what they are going towards or running away from.
When babies crawl towards something, especially with excitement, that is a cue that they are excited, and they are really interested in what they are crawling towards. If they seem to crawl away from something, as if they were afraid, they may just be. You may want to remove those items so that your little one feels safe and secure in their home.
9 Fast Breathing
This non-verbal cue is a little more serious than the other ones because it could also be a sign that something is not medically right with your baby. Newborns have funny breathing patterns, and they can go between fast and rapid breathing to slow and shallow very easily. They are working on their rhythm. As they get older, fast breathing could be an indicator that they are getting frustrated with something and they need your help.
Of course, they can’t ask you for help, so they do this rapid breathing to let it all out. Of course, fast breathing could also be a sign that something is not right and if mom is concerned, she should seek medical attention.
8 Tugging Away At The Ears
A lot of babies tug on their ears at some point, and this non-verbal cue could have three main causes. The first is that they could be getting tired. Some babies will tug on their ears in an attempt to help self-soothe when they are getting tired. Tugging on the ears can also be an indicator that your baby is teething as tooth and gum pain can go all the way up to the ears.
There is always the chance that ear tugging could also mean there is an ear infection. Ear infections are very common in babies and if mom feels like this could be the culprit, she should make a doctor’s appointment. This is one of the reasons we really need to know our baby because it will help us know what our baby needs.
7 Duck Lips
Just when we thought that duck lips were something millennials were doing it in selfies and that was it. Duck lips are a non-verbal cue from babies as well, and it is way cuter when a baby does it than a tween. Some may say that this is an attempt at getting you to play with them, by making themselves look as cute as possible, and it works.
It is always important that mom and dad respond to the baby when they send out these cues. This is how great relationships are built. Bring out all the brightly colored toys that make noise and your little one will start to respond even more to you.
6 Relaxed Hand Behind The Head
It is always nice to be relaxed, just imagine laying at the beach with your hands behind your head and just soaking in all the sun. Well, you may think it is too adorable when you walk in and see your baby relaxing in the exact same way. This one can be a bit tricky because there are multiple reasons why a baby may put their hands behind their head.
Some babies do this when they are teething, or their ears are bothering them. If everything seems to be fine medically, then it is likely that your baby is just tired and is winding down for the moment. Mom may also want to make sure that they are not actually scratching their head because of some dry skin.
Clapping is a skill that the baby won’t have until they are a little older, but it is a fun one. When they are around eight or nine months old, they will have developed the ability to clap their hands and it is one of the clearest cues out there. This means your little one is just full of joy and excitement and needs to get it all out of their system.
Turn this into a fun game and clap along with them. Turn on some music, turn it all the way up, and have a good old-fashioned clapping dance party. Some babies will also get to know daily activities they like and may start clapping when they know it is approaching, such as mealtime or bath time.
4 Chewing On Mom’s Finger
Almost everything you give your baby will end up in their mouth. If it is in their hand, it is going to go in their mouth. This is not necessarily a non-verbal cue, because this is how babies learn about the world around them, by putting items in their mouth. There also may come a time when mom’s hands and knuckles end up in the baby’s mouth.
When mom’s hands go in the mouth, this could be a very big cue. If the baby is chomping down on your hand, chances are they are trying to tell you that they are teething, and they need something to chew on. If mom doesn’t want her hand chewed on, she should invest in some teething toys and rings for the little one to soothe their gums on.
3 What Happens When The Legs Go Up?
Babies are pretty darn flexible, but they need to enjoy it now because it does fade away. They need to be born flexible so that they can squeeze through the birth canal and make their grand entrance. They use this flexibility to their advantage when they want to send one clear signal to mom; they have to go to the bathroom.
If your little one is laying on their back, and they raise their legs straight up in the air, chances are they are about to go number two. Now, why does mom need to pay attention to this? Well, babies can get backed up a bit, especially if they have just started solid food, so this act can tell mom how easy a time her little one is having.
2 Fidgeting Problem
We all fidget and move around. We have this need to just move our body, and we don’t really know why. Sometimes, it happens because of some built up anxiety or stress we have going on in our life. Babies do this too and for the same reason. Babies can also feel anxiety and stress, even if they don’t appear to have the same problems we do.
They can also feel it coming off of mom and dad, so the calmer mom is, the calmer the baby will be. If you notice your little one fidgeting, they could be trying to tell you that they are stressed and they need your help. Take some time to just relax and get some good cuddling in.
1 Not Sleeping Is A Big Sign!
The biggest concern for parents out there is sleep. When a baby comes, sleep goes out the window for a little bit. Parents spend a lot of time thinking of ways to get their little one to sleep. They try all the hacks and tricks, desperate for a few more hours a night of shut-eye.
A baby not sleeping is a big clue that something may be wrong. This is one of the trickier ones because there could be so many reasons why the baby is not sleeping. They could be overtired, teething, have gas, or just don’t want to be apart from mom. Unfortunately, there is no guidebook manual on what to do, so mom has to go through the checklist until she finds what works.
References: pbcexpo.com, psychologytoday.com, whattoexpect.com