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Understand Your Baby’s Cues

Updated: Nov 2, 2023




What are baby cues?

Babies are born with the ability to communicate, interact, and learn. But they can’t talk, you may be thinking, so how does that even work? Well, babies are constantly “talking” to their parents. They interact through noises, facial expressions, and arm and leg movements before they learn to speak. These are called baby cues.

Babies use signals to express how they are feeling and what they want. These signals are intended to attract attention, transmit messages, and provide clues. Cues show what your baby likes and dislikes, as well as whether they can continue an activity or wants a break. It is important to distinguish between different types of cues, primarily engagement and disengagement cues.

Engagement cues are signs or body language used by a baby to show that they like what they are doing.

  • When the baby focuses on you, their eyes become wide open and bright.

  • Alert face through turning eyes, head, or body toward you or the person who is talking.

  • Softly folded posture (looks relaxed)

  • Hands clenched together

Disengagement cues are signs or body language used by a baby to express their frustration. A baby will show you if they are stressed and wants a break from what is going on.

  • Crying or sobbing

  • Searching, yawning, sneezing

  • Any sign of sleepiness

  • Avoiding another's eyes, head, or body from you or the person who is speaking.

Crying is a late sign of hunger; look for the other signs of hunger mentioned below to feed your baby while they are still calm.



A recent analysis indicated that (1) breastfeeding infants exhibited more cues, and different signaling patterns, compared with their formula-feeding peers. Breastfeeding mothers have been found (2) to be more receptive to their children, which may be attributed in part to the communication abilities demonstrated by breastfed babies.


What are the sleeping cues of a baby?

Babies sleep for most of the day and night in the first few weeks after birth. Most babies wake up two to three times during the night to breastfeed.

Some of the signs of exhaustion and sleepiness are as follows:

  • yawning

  • jerky moves

  • becoming silent

  • crying

  • rubbing eyes

  • moving arms and legs

When you get to know your baby better, you will be able to tell when they are tired and want to be put down.



What Is the average feeding frequency of a newborn?

How does this go back to breastfeeding?

Research indicates that understanding your baby’s cues is related to the long-term effects of breastfeeding. As a quick recap, remember that during the first few weeks of life, an infant will feed eight to twelve times per day. Breastfeeding can be done on demand (when your baby is hungry), which is every one to three hours in most cases. As an infant grows older, they may eat less often and wait for longer periods between feedings. Newborns should not be left without feeding for longer than four to five hours.

According to research on infant attachment and development (3), babies who are properly listened to when exhibiting feeding cues are calmer, more attached, and more independent children later in life. The WHO (4) even encourages letting mothers breastfeed their babies as often as they want, day and night, whenever the baby shows signs of readiness to feed. Demand feeding is also known as baby-led or unregulated breastfeeding.

In conclusion, getting to know your baby will make your journey much easier and more enjoyable. Hunger, fullness, and sleeping cues are important to know since the newborn communicates with us through their body language.

From the Mommy Zone team, we are always here for you.


References:

  1. N. Shloim, 2017, Looking for cues – infant communication of hunger and satiation during milk feeding, Journal title: Appetite

  2. N. Shloim, 2017, Looking for cues – infant communication of hunger and satiation during milk feeding, Journal title: Appetite

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