Babies may not possess the power of language, but they most definitely can (and do) communicate. According to Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., professor of psychology and author of Baby Signs, “babies are born with the ability to express several emotions, including distress and contentment,”–if we learn to read and respond to their cues, babies feel safer, and the bond between parent and child is made stronger. Here are the six most important signals your little one will send your way.
Babies need some ‘alone time’, too: “From about two months on, babies disconnect if they’re feeling overwhelmed or over stimulated,” says Dr. Acredolo. “Sometimes, the baby will turn his head to the side almost stubbornly, or play with his fingers or toes, or even
start crying—anything to break contact with an adult.” This doesn’t mean he necessarily wants to be put down and left to his own devices; he just needs a few moments without intense interaction.
Around a few weeks post-birth, babies will arch their backs if in discomfort. “It might mean he has reflux, especially when the arched back is combined with crying,” explains Michele Saysana, M.D.
“The baby will squirm around and move to try to get to a more comfortable position.” Aside from reflux or gas pains, arching could also simply indicate they’re full up, and done with the feed. Alternatively, between 4 or 5 months, this movement could mean an attempt to roll over.
The classic fatigue sign. “Before 6 months, they rub their faces against something if they are tired or itchy,” says Saysana. “After that, they might discover an ear by accident, and take comfort in pulling or rubbing it. Ears are a sensitive part of the body, and babies like feeling them.”
The rooting reflex is part of your baby’s survival mechanism, ensuring she stays nourished. “A newborn will turn his head whenever something touches his cheek,” says Saysana. “The reflex disappears after the first few weeks, although babies will still turn toward you to nurse—it’s not automatic anymore and becomes a cue they are hungry.” If you feed your baby to sleep, rooting will also come to signal tiredness.
You can generally look forward to the first true smile around six to eight weeks. “At this early age, smiles are likely a signal of physical contentment,” says Dr. Acredolo. The smiles are spontaneous at this point, but will soon become more controlled–usually reserved for their favourite people (or at least very entertaining ones).