One of the most difficult things about being the parent of a baby is that they have very limited ways of communicating. Sure, there’s the obvious laughter and crying, but apart from that, trying to work out what is going on in their little minds can feel like a nigh impossible task. However, with the right knowledge, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
It turns out that there’s a lot of signs that babies give off, both in their body language and behavior, which can let us know how they’re feeling – if, of course, we are able to read these signs; many of which appear to be something else entirely. So, to help you understand your little angel better, we’ve compiled a list of 18 common baby signs and their meanings.
Your baby’s cry
Any parent of a small child will attest to the fact that their cry can vary quite a bit, so instead of guessing what your baby wants, as most of us are prone to do, take a closer look, and you could discover what’s wrong a whole lot quicker.
It’s also worth noting that a study in Nature found that mom’s, in particular, are very good at deciphering baby’s cries because they elicit the release of the hormone oxytocin in the brain.
1. A calling cry
As the name suggests, the purpose of this cry is to literally call for something – usually you. You’ll know that’s the case if your baby cries for around six seconds, then pauses for around 20. This is them waiting for a response. However, if they don’t get one, they will grow frustrated and once the waiting period is over, it will turn into a continuous cry.
2. A hunger cry
Once again, the meaning of this cry is in its name. It starts out like a calling cry, however, it will turn into hysterics if they aren’t fed. They will also try to express their hunger by turning their head and using their mouth to make smacking sounds.
3. A pain cry
Just like us grownups, a baby will cry when they are in pain. A pain cry is monotonous, loud, and constant. It’s also worth noting that if the baby’s pain is increasing, there will be hysterical bursts as it does. Sometimes, if the pain they are experiencing is particularly draining, it will turn into a whimper as they don’t have the energy to properly cry.
4. A physiological processes cry
Because babies are new to the world, the natural processes of their bodies can upset them – whether it’s bloating or pooping. They’ll express their discomfort when this happens in a slightly less concerning way by whining and squeaking.
5. A tired cry
Another problem that babies experience which we grownups can relate to is being very tried but simply being unable to sleep. When this happens, they will have an irritated and intermittent cry, which is usually accompanied by yawning. In addition to this, just like with a hungry cry, your baby could physically express the problem by rubbing their eyes and ears.
6. An environmental cry
This is the most difficult cry to understand, in our opinion, because it could represent a number of things. In short, if your baby isn’t happy about where they are, they will cry to prompt you to move them, or because they’re frustrated and bored.
The noises your baby makes
When our little angels want to get our attention but aren’t necessarily upset, they will do the closest thing they can to speaking: make some noises. And while baby talk might seem nonsensical, it’s actually surprisingly meaningful. Don’t just take my word for it though, what you’re about to read is 20 years’ worth of research by pediatrician Priscilla Dunstan.
7. ‘Neh’ – “I’m hungry!”
A baby makes this sound by pushing their tongue up onto the top of their mouth. This is them letting you know that they’re hungry – and let’s face it, it’s best to act quickly before this ends up turning into a less adorable hunger cry.
8. ‘Eh’ – “I’m going to burp!”
Once again, physiological process often elicits a response from a baby, and when they’re about to burp, they’ll let you know by making an ‘Eh’ sound, as wind slowly but surely begins to leave their system. How adorable!
9. ‘Owh’ – “I’m tired!”
Have you ever noticed how your lips fold before you yawn? Well, then this happens to a baby, they’ll often make an audible ‘Owh’ sound, which is a good sign for us parents that the time has come for them to settle down to sleep.
10. ‘Heh’ – “I have pain in my tummy!”
It doesn’t necessarily matter what the cause is, when there’s something uncomfortable going on in your baby’s stomach, they will often strain and jolt, causing them to make a ‘Heh’ sound that lets you know there’s something up.
11. ‘Eairh’ – “I have gases and pain in my tummy!”
This is a variation on the sound mentioned above and will happen when there’s something painful going on in your baby’s stomach. It’s caused by them straining their tummy and exhaling at the same time in a bid to relieve the pain.
Your baby’s movements
Just like with us grownups, body language can say a lot about how a baby is feeling. Studies from three UK universities found that these gestures were a surefire sign that babies try to communicate at a much younger age than previously thought.
Professor Elena Lieven said: “Our research demonstrates that babies may be doing more to communicate than many of us usually assume, and at an earlier age.
“By understanding these early behaviors, parents have a great opportunity to help support their children’s later language development.”
“Understanding babies’ gestures could be just as important as understanding their early language.”
14. Arching their back
The meaning of this largely depends on age. If your baby is under two months old, it’s usually a sign that they’re suffering from pain or colic. It can also be a sign that they’ve had enough to eat, which is useful to know if you’re breastfeeding. If they’re older than two months, an arched back is typically a sign of tiredness or a bad mood.
15. A rotating head
No, this isn’t your baby going all Exorcist on you. It’s actually a good thing and it’s what your baby does to calm down! The other potential meanings of this movement are that they’re about to fall asleep or because they’re around new people.
16. Grabbing their ears
If a baby grabs their ears, it means that they’re getting to know their bodies, so it’s usually a good sign. However, if it’s repeated or accompanied by crying, you should consult a doctor as it could be a sign of something else like a skin condition.
17. Clenching their fists
Simply put, this is a sign that your baby is hungry.
18. Lifting their legs
If your baby is lifting their legs, it could be a sign of colic and tummy pain. This is their way of trying to relieve it.
19. Jerking their arms
As is suggested by the word jerking, sudden movements are a sign that your baby is frightened. This could be caused by a number of things including a loud sound, bright light, or if they are suddenly woken up.
However, don’t worry if you can’t quite get a handle on all of these signs. It’s recommended by experts that the more time you spend talking and interacting with your baby, the sooner they will be able to communicate in a way you understand!