Non verbal communication between mother and baby

Presented by Jane Barry, Philips Avent

Newborns are designed to communicate and seek human contact. That way they are cared for and the love they receive has a direct influence on the type of adult they’ll eventually become. That’s why it’s so important for parents to be sensitive to the non verbal cues and signals their little one is giving them.

When you first bring your bundle of joy home from the hospital, it can be hard to interpret what your baby is trying to say. You’ll most likely feel very tired and quite overwhelmed and won’t have the energy to interpret facial expressions and subtle body language.

According to the organization Zero to Three “Babies communicate from birth, through sounds (crying, cooing, squealing), facial expressions (eye contact, smiling, grimacing) and gestures/body movements (moving legs in excitement or distress, and later, gestures like pointing”). 

When your baby is about two years of age they’ll have a vocabulary of around 50 words. Although their babbling and chatter will make sense to you long before then, much of their early communication will be through their facial expressions and gestures.

Here are some tips to help you interpret your baby’s non verbals cues

Every baby is an individual and will communicate in their own unique way. Your baby’s age and stage of development will impact on how they communicate and you don’t have to get it right every time. What’s important is that you try to understand what your little one wants.

Sometimes your baby won’t know themselves what they want because they’re little and their brain is too. Until they learn to talk and develop skills in verbal communication, the best they have is their eyes, their body and their cries. Communication isn’t one sided and very soon after birth babies learn that "words, voice tone, facial expressions and gestures are all part of the messages other people give them.”

I’m still hungry!

Because I’m sucking strongly and swallowing the milk which is in my mouth. I have a look of concentration on my face and I’m calm and not crying or fussing. When you take your breast or the bottle away, I cry and complain, and I’m not distracted by what’s going on around me.

I’m full

I close my lips and pull away from the breast or bottle,I’m starting to fuss and cry, I’m not sucking and swallowing anymore and milk is pooling in my mouth. I starting to dribble milk and I’m distractible and not focused on sucking. I’m pushing the breast or bottle away from my mouth and I turn my head to the side and close my eyes and I may be looking a bit uncomfortable.

I’m tired

I’m becoming irritable and starting to cry. There is a change in the pitch and intensity of my cry and I’m no longer happy and content. I’m rubbing my eyes and I look a little pale. My eyes are red; I’m losing focus and I’m staring off into space. My face scrunches up and my hands clench into fists. I’m starting to fall asleep in your arms or where I am lying. I’m yawning and rubbing my face with my hands.

I want to play

My eyes are bright and open and I reach for a toy or your face.I wave my arms and legs around because I’m just so excited, I might even squeal and laugh with delight. I’m looking around for something exciting so I’ll try to move towards a toy or whatever is grabbing my attention.

I’m bored

Watch me as I close my eyes and break eye contact.I look away from your face for something more interesting to gaze at – don’t take this personally!  I’m starting to cry and fuss because I’m no longer interested in what I was doing before.

I want to be held and carried,and I might even yawn just to show you I really need entertaining.

I want comfort

I’m starting to cry and become upset, I really need to be fed, settled or get your help because I feel uncomfortable. I’m going to be looking for you and reach out to be picked up. I’m looking for eye contact so I’ll try to connect with your face. I’m likely to get upset when strangers come near me, so stay close. 

I need you close if I feel frightened or unsure or if I’m in a strange or unfamiliar place. Be near to me if I’m hurt, scared or just feeling insecure. Or perhaps I just don’t need much of a reason at all to know you are close to me.

Your parental instinct

Sometimes you may have problems interpreting your baby’s messages and just have a sense that something isn’t quite right, not because of any particular change in the way they’re communicating but a general sense of unease in yourself. It’s always worthwhile for parents to follow their “gut instincts” and have their baby seen by a doctor.

References

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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