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Deciphering Baby Talk: What is Your Baby Saying

By Celeste R. Phillips , RN, MSN, EdD

Deciphering Baby Talk: What is Your Baby Saying

Your baby begins to talk to you long before he can speak words. The next time you’re diapering your baby in the “quiet alert” state, pay attention to his cues. You may see his eyes widen as he looks at your red earring. He may be following that earring with his eyes as you move or tilt your head. He’s definitely saying, “I’m interested in what I’m seeing. I want to know more about that bright red object.”

Other baby cues are more subtle, such as the following:

You’re doing the right thing. I’m happy.” Your baby shows you he is satisfied by cooing or smiling.

I’ve had enough attention for now. I think I need a break!” He will let you know when he’s had enough play or stimulation by looking away but not taking an interest in something else. He’s telling you he’s done for now.

Let me out of here! Enough already.” He’s ready to escape his current situation when he twists his body, turns away from whomever is holding him and arches his back. Remember, we adults can turn and walk away; our babies have to use their bodies and movements to try and increase the distance between themselves and what they’re trying to escape. These moves often follow after the looking-away signal described above doesn’t work.

I need comforting.” Just like you, your baby may need comforting in a variety of situations. He may be frightened, sad or confused in an unfamiliar situation. During these times, you may notice him trying to suck on something, like his fingers, hands or thumbs.

I’m trying to comfort myself!” Crying babies will try to comfort themselves. You can help by speaking softly, and if that doesn’t work, try picking him up and carrying him around.

Watch your baby at different times during the day to see his range of communication signals – his cues and attention-getting behaviors. He has a unique personality and he’ll use it to show you what he wants.

You may find he cries at the first pang of hunger or that he waits until he’s starving to let you know he wants to be fed. Your baby may even wait quietly for you to feed him. Does he lay still during diaper changes or is he wiggly? Just like grown-ups, you’re going to see your baby be active, passive, calm and irritable over time.

Get to know and understand your baby’s personality and temperament. Whether he prefers rocking or stillness, new people or being alone. If you watch, you’ll notice he’s constantly communicating his likes and dislikes to you. Tune in and respond so that your baby hears you talking right back at him.

About the Author: Celeste R. Phillips, RN, MSN, EdD, is president of Phillips and Fenwick Inc., The Women’s Health Care Consulting Company and a passionate expert and advocate on mother-baby nursing and care.


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