7 important facts about your baby's body language

Newborns don’t come with an instruction manual, which is a crying shame because it sure would make those first few months a lot easier.

But what they do come with is body language that is unique to them, and once you start to recognise what they’re trying to tell you non-verbally then it might make life a little easier for you both. 

While crying is the universal language of a newborn, they do also communicate with a variety of subtle facial expressions and body movements.

When you take a closer look at your baby you’ll see their hands clasp, feet kick and a range of facial expressions. These cues can help you figure out how they’re feeling or what they need from you.

Keep an eye out for how your baby moves when she is distressed, this will help you get to know what makes her uncomfortable or upset, for example she might squirm and move a lot if she’s blinded by the sun.

You can also see what calms your baby by watching how they respond to you, for example they might smile when you sing or smile. Returning this smile will help them feel safe and it even boosts brain development.

Hint: Often baby will rub their eyes and yawn to signal they are ready for bed, if you catch them in the act of this put them to bed as soon as possible, this can help settle a baby into a routine.

What your baby’s body language might mean:

  1. Kicks legs – this could mean he’s having lots of fun or he has figured out that banging his legs against the cot once he’s awake will bring you into the room.
  2. Rubs eyes – perhaps she is tired and ready for bed or she is trying to get you to play peekaboos. Babies can start to imitate those around them from about eight months.
  3. Twirling of hair – maybe she’s trying to soothe herself with a repetitive movement or she is nervous or anxious about the situation she is in, say for example a noisy or new environment.
  4. Arching back – he’s saying no thanks or is very unhappy and needs your help to calm down or he could be in pain. If your newborn continually does this during or after feeding it could indicate reflux.
  5. Out stretched arms – probably signals your baby is relaxed and happy, see what facial expressions go with this action and make a mental note of this.
  6. Opens mouth – usually indicates it’s time for something to eat, if you miss this then fussing or crying might quickly follow.
  7. Ear grabbing – she might be in pain as ear pulling can be a sign of discomfort in any part of the body. Your baby might also feel distressed or overwhelmed about the situation she is in.

If you’re worried you’re not quite picking up on baby’s body language, you can show your newborn your love by:

  • Singing songs or telling stories, babies are most attracted to pitch and rhythm and enjoy the sounds of soothing music.
  • Talking to your baby as often as you can in soothing, reassuring tones and about anything at all. This will help your baby identify your voice and teach them the basics of language.
  • Making eye contact and facial expressions when talking or singing to your bub will help them learn there’s a connection between words and feelings.
  • Cuddling and touching your newborn gently and regularly, this will make them feel safe and secure.

Getting into the groove with your newborn is no picnic, but if you pay close attention to their body language over time you’ll be an expert at knowing what they want or are feeling.


About the author - Emily Toxward

When former journalist Emily Toxward isn’t wrangling her three kids she’s juggling the demands of her business Write Styling and failing fabulously at being a domestic goddess. A published writer for nearly 20 years, Emily left full-time work in 2008 to have children and write from home. Always on the go, she spends her days negotiating with an army of little people she created and visits her local Gold Coast beaches for a little sanity.

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