Your baby didnâ€™t come packaged with an ownerâ€™s manual, but her body language can tell you plenty, including what she wants and needs from you. Some of those early body signals are hard-wiredâ€”more instinctual than intentionalâ€”but as grows little older sheâ€™ll use her body language to communicate a whole lot more. Hereâ€™s a quick guide to baby body language.
â€œOne moment my one month old will be almost asleep. Then suddenly, for no reason at all, sheâ€™ll fling her arms and legs out and start wailing.â€
Your baby is startling in response to a noise or a movement. Try blocking out some of the background noise (a white noise machine works amazingly well) and swaddling your baby in a light-weight blanket so sheâ€™ll be less likely to startle herself awake. By the time your baby is five or six months old, your baby will have outgrown this particular reflex and sleeping more soundly.
â€œIf my newbornâ€™s face rubs against my shoulder while Iâ€™m carrying him across the room, he starts bobbing his head up and down.â€
Your baby is bound and determined to find a breast. Heâ€™s just a little off when it comes to basic geography. And why not? Itâ€™s a strategy thatâ€™s served babies since the beginning of time. When babies feel something rubbing the corner of their mouths they open up wide and â€œrootâ€ in the direction of the stroking in the hope that a nipple will magically present itself. And often it does!
â€œSometimes my baby and I will be playing with a toyâ€”and then sheâ€™ll start fussing and look away.â€
Thatâ€™s her way of saying that, â€œHey, itâ€™s been fun, but Iâ€™ve had enough.â€ Respect your babyâ€™s need for a break. See if you can get her down for a nap orâ€”at the very leastâ€”put away that too-cool educational toy and ease into a quieter, more soothing activity.
â€œMy baby has this strange habit of breathing really rapidly when heâ€™s excited. And then his feet get in on the act, too.â€
Donâ€™t you love the way babies use their entire bodies to express enthusiasm? If only we grownups could cut lose like that a little more oftenâ€”breathing heavily to say how happy we are when someone we love walks through the door and kicking our feet with joy when our favorite veggie finds its way to the dinner table.
â€œSometimes my seven-month-old cries because I canâ€™t get the food to her mouth quickly enough. Other times, I canâ€™t even get her to open her mouth. Sheâ€™ll turn her face away and ignore me completely.â€
Your babyâ€™s appetite varies from one feeding to the next andâ€”like all babiesâ€”she knows how to make it perfectly clear when dinner is over. Learn to read and respect your babyâ€™s fullness cues. Sheâ€™s the best judge of how much food she needs.
â€œYesterday, my eight-month-old started acting sleepy during lunch. By the time she finished her lunch, she was completely hysterical. Then she wouldnâ€™t take her nap!â€
In the world of babies, thereâ€™s tired and then thereâ€™s overtired. The secret to getting babies to settle down to sleep is to spot the signs of tiredness before your baby enters the no manâ€™s land of overtiredness: quiet calmness rather than fussiness or frantic crying.
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Baby Books and the newly-published Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler and Mealtime Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. Read her articles at www.having-a-baby.com
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