Understanding Your Newborn Baby; article for the Maui Family Magazine

While babies cannot speak they have many ways of communicating.  Some of their behavior cues are clear while others are not so easy to interpret and can be easily missed.  With a little observation parents can learn to recognize their baby’s cues, while gaining confidence in their ability to sooth and care for their newborns.

Infant behaviors that indicate readiness for interaction are called engagement cues.  “Lets play” signals are: staring intently at your face while holding your gaze, following your voice and tracking your face, smiling, using calm body movements and having a relaxed facial expression. Infants move between behavior states quickly. Behaviors that indicate a need for less stimulation are called disengagement cues.  “I need something to be different” signals are: baby looks away, eyes open and close, sneezes, agitated movements and fussiness.  Crying signals that an infant’s limits have been reached.

Babies go through cycles of light and deep sleep, and both types are important for your baby’s developmental growth.  Light sleep can be recognized in babies when you see their eyes flutter, facial expressions change, smiles, and body twitches.  This sleep stimulates your baby’s brain and is associated with processing and storing information.  An infant sleep cycle starts with light sleep then after about 20 minutes moves into deep sleep. Deep sleep is a good time to lie your baby down.  Signs of deep sleep are: arms and legs are relaxed and floppy, little to no body movement, and staying asleep with loud noises.  Deep sleep is restorative and gives your baby the energy to process information. 

Newborns need to feed often and have many cues to signal that they are hungry. These cues are: licking lips and sticking tongue out, sucking on hands, and moving face and mouth around (rooting reflex).  Crying is a late cue, as it can be much easier to feed your baby when he is calm.  

Having a baby can be a very exciting yet overwhelming time.  As you get to know your baby you will recognize her unique language and be able to intuitively respond to her needs.