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The Cheat-Sheet for Interpreting Baby Language From 0 – 12 Months 

The Cheat-Sheet for Interpreting Baby Language From 0 – 12 Months
Yawning in a baby usually points to a relaxed state of mind, boredom, tiredness and the desire to sleep


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The first year of baby development is arguably very exciting and yet, very frustrating, especially for first time parents. While it is satisfying to bring a baby into this world, it is another thing raising her up! The first year is when the baby screams the most, makes faces, thrusts the arms, kicks a lot, stuffs everything in the mouth, and coos and bubbles in order to speak, all in the name of discovery and expression. Most of these activities add up to what is known as baby language development.

Besides the adventures listed above, babies will, however, do one thing the most – Cry! They will cry a lot, and sometimes for no apparent reason, but simply because they can! This may come as a surprise for the unprepared new parents, who somehow discover they have to deal with the complex dilemma of a wordless vocabulary.

Nothing is as frustrating as trying to figure out why your 1-month old baby is screaming her head off and leaving you clueless as to cause and solution. Even worse your baby may squeal so loud in all the wrong places. Public transport is one such place and in the company of strangers. Besides the irritation it may create, everyone else somehow seems to have an answer to your nightmare, except you of course! They will tell you stuff like undress the baby, sing for the baby and make the baby burp!

Well, sounds familiar? Then probably you would want to understand this language a little better

The Complex Baby Language

Babies actually prefer to talk and save themselves the pain of having to cry or use other motor indicators. But it is all they know. They are incapable of communicating the way adults do until they are 9 months or older. They are thus genetically wired to express hunger, anger, sleep, fatigue, wet-bottom discomfort, discomfort with sounds, discomfort with extreme temperature, cold feet, discomfort with extreme light & darkness, and generally how they feel, through non-verbal communication. They do these using a  variety of sounds, facial expressions, and gestures. They will also use similar cues to express the universal desire to be held and cuddled.

Your ability to interpret these baby language signs will go a long way to help sort out their pain and discomfort, and sometimes fend off the health complications that may arise.

It is also important to understand that babies will also cry from a condition known as colic, sometimes for more than 3 hours every day.

Though all newborns cry and show some fussiness, when an infant who is otherwise healthy cries for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week for at least 3 weeks, it is a condition known as colic. This can be upsetting, but the good news is that it’s short-lived — most babies outgrow it at around 3 or 4 months of age.

Communication and Your Newborn

The Cheat-Sheet for Interpreting Baby Language

Generally, babies will use the following clues to get their message across, and you may want to understand them well in order to delve deep into the non-verbal baby language they use:

1. Common Baby Sounds

Through the first year of life, babies will use different kinds of sounds to convey different messages. While the sounds may seem incomprehensible at first, you will soon get used to them. It is not until they are 8 and 9 months old, that they will begin making sense of what they say. From the word go, though, your baby will cry, scream, squeal, coo, grunt, chuckle, growl, belch, babble, and sigh, in order to let you know what they feel and need.

The primary sound all babies use to communicate is crying. The crying will seem intense in the beginning but will reduce as they learn real-world vocabulary to communicate better.

Hunger happens to be the main reason babies cry the most. Once the hunger is contained, usually through regular breast milk and formula, they will keep calm and only continue to cry because of colic, and other pains. Still, they will cry when they want to sleep, and a simple cuddle will always do the trick. All you have to do is place them face-down when they get to sleep.

Babies will also cry due to extremes in temperature, sound, light, and darkness, and discomfort resulting from fatigue, wet-bottoms, and cold feet. Sometimes they will cry because of mood swings, or simply because of nothing! Your baby will also scream if you fail to pay attention, and many times when you raise the tone of your voice in anger.

Most of the time, however, all they need is a change of sleeping position, environment and parental involvement through a little smile here and there, and of course cuddling. Yes, cuddling. Simply carry your baby and walk around, even deep in the night and you will be amazed how soon the baby will sleep off.

Besides crying, your baby will coo through vowels such as ohh, ahh, and consonants like k, b, p, g starting in the 3rd month or thereabout. The baby will also gurgle and snort when they have a congested nose and are battling mucus.

Baby congestion happens early in life because

  • they are battling remnants of amniotic fluid from the mother
  • they have tiny airways, making it hard for mucus to flow, coupled with the inability to blow the mucus out
  • they can only breath using the nose, unlike older children and adults who also use the mouth

your baby spent their first nine months of existence submerged in amniotic fluid. After delivery, there may be residual amounts of fluid left in their sinuses, which can make your little one congested.

What Causes Baby Congestion?

The above in addition to other sounds such as grants and growling in addition to the wagging of the hands may also happen when your baby wants efficient feeding and to be cuddled. The baby will growl to express anger at not being fed fast enough or discomfort from particular people or caregivers. Your baby will also chuckle, sigh, and belch to reflect contentment, as a result of tickling, a response to humor, and tummy fullness.

Babbling at 4 – 6 months will also happen as the kid is learning to utter new-found words. Depending on your language, words such as ma, ba, da are commonly used to mean mama, baba, and daddy.

2. Common Body Gestures in Babies

Motor development in babies starts the day they are born with rooting & sucking reflexes and eye movement topping the list. Somehow, the baby will crane the neck in the direction of the nipple out of stimulation. The same is true when touched on either side of the cheek. The baby will turn the head towards the touched side with the mouth open and ready for suckling.

These and other automatic body reflexes are normal responses to help babies feed, and respond to extremes in the environment such as noise, light, and temperature. The jerky arms and legs, and twisting of the head from side to side are helpful in strengthening body muscles.

Inside the second month, your baby will notice the presence of her own arm nearby and will try to place the fingers, and thumbs in particular, inside the mouth. Your baby will suck the fingers to signal hunger, stimulation, boredom, and exploration of body parts, and during the teething months, to relieve pressure on the gums.

Your baby will also communicate by use of other body gestures such as wiggling, arching, coiling, yawning, clenched fists, and stretching of the arms and legs.

Wiggling is usually accompanied by crying very early on to indicate rapid development in the nervous system, something you do not have to worry so much about.

These movements are pretty uncoordinated, with arms and legs flailing about, largely because of this rapid neurological development in the first few months of life.

Baby Center

When the crying and wiggling goes to the extremes, you may want to swaddle your baby.

Extreme coiling and arching of the back, in addition to stretching of the arms and legs, may indicate pain in the stomach such as acid reflux, nerve damage, and cerebral palsy, but only if. You should be particularly worried if these are accompanied by non-stop crying. Most of the time, however, arching and coiling are indicative of colic, other pain or hunger.

Generally, yawning in babies may indicate a relaxed state of mental wellbeing, boredom, tiredness, and the desire to sleep, while stretching of the arms and legs may indicate they are relaxed. Your baby could be hungry when she clenches the fists.

3. Common Facial Expressions & Signs

Your baby will smile and use eye contact, and numerous other facial expressions to communicate with you. A smile during the 1st and 2nd months is usually a reflex response and can happen when the baby is passing gas. As the baby grows into the 3rd month however, the smiles evolve into responses to your smiles and are indicative of a learning curve. This development in baby language shows the baby is actually learning the skills necessary to communicate.

Babies also show responses of anger, boredom, excitement, fear, and discomfort through their faces. They will twist their faces in addition to crying to show anger, and throw objects around to indicate boredom as a result of overstimulation. Upon changing the environment, they will promptly relax. Your baby will depict fear by closing the eyes and will grin while moving hands and legs, to show excitement.

Babies are also good at using their eyes to draw attention and focus on a new person or object of interest. The long unbroken look, even at 2 – 3 months mean they are curious about a person or object they are looking at.

There are many other reasons why babies will stare:

For example, you might see your toddler gazing at you to get your attention (Won’t you come play with me?). You might also see your child watching you to learn something new (Now how do I press the cell phone buttons?).

Reading Your Child’s Cues from Birth to Age 2

Your Role as a Parent

It is important to note that the above developments in baby language will not happen at the same timeframe for all babies, for one reason or another. The sounds, gestures, and facial expressions, too, may vary depending on upbringing, and other reasons. The health of the baby, premature birth and other external factors are known to play significant part with developmental milestones in early childhood. Baby language acquisition is also affected as a result.

Nonetheless, your role as a parent is to facilitate language acquisition as much as possible.

  • Talk to your baby regularly
  • Sing for your baby because they love hearing music and your voice
  • Breast milk is the ultimate antidote against many forms of illnesses
  • Create a healthy environment for the baby to achieve most of the development milestones

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