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

In the first 12 months your baby will use sounds, facial expressions, and gestures to communicate, in what is known as baby language.

Updated Jun 14, 2022
baby language

The first year in childhood development is quite exciting for every new mother. It is also very frustrating, because of one little thing – baby language.

While it is satisfying to give birth to a new baby, it is another thing trying to have a decent conversation with the little fellow.

For some reason, your child will pop out of the womb with the inability to communicate naturally, and this can go on for two years or thereabouts!

This is the time your baby will scream the most, make faces, thrust the arms, kick a lot, stuff everything in the mouth, and coo and bubble!

In the beginning, you will not have a clear understanding of what is happening and what you are supposed to do to have the situation under control!

Your baby will, however, do one thing the most – cry! He will cry a lot, and many times for no apparent reason, but simply because he can!

This may astonish every new parent, who somehow discovers she has to deal with the complex dilemma of a wordless baby language.

The complex baby language

the complex baby language
Photo by nappy from Pexels

The truth is, babies prefer to talk, and save themselves the pain of having to cry, but it is all they know.

They are incapable of communicating the way adults do, not until they are 9 months old. They are genetically wired to express hunger, anger, sleep, fatigue, and discomfort, through non-verbal communication.

Babies will do these using sound, facial, and gestural reflexes. They will also use similar cues to express the desire to be held and cuddled.

Your ability to interpret these signs will help you sort out their pain and discomfort, and fend off the health complications that may arise.

The cheat-sheet for interpreting baby language

Babies will use the following clues to get their message across, and you may want to understand them well enough to interpret what they are communiting:

1. Common baby sounds

(Image by talib abdulla from Pixabay)

Through the first year of life, babies will use different sounds to convey different messages.

While the sounds may seem incomprehensible at first, you must learn what they mean.

From the word go, your baby will cry, scream, squeal, coo, grunt, chuckle, growl, belch, babble, and sigh, to let you know what he wants.

Hunger happens to be the main reason babies cry the most. The condition known as colic will also make babies cry through to the third month.

Besides crying, your baby will coo through vowels such as ohh, ahh, eh, and growl using consonants like k, b, p, g starting in the third month or thereabout.

According to singer Pricilla Dunstan of Dunstan Baby Language, these are the meanings of different baby sounds:

  • Neh means hunger
  • Eh indicates the desire to burp
  • Eairh is a sign of gas
  • Heh points to discomfort due to hot, cold, or wet conditions
  • Owh points to sleepiness

Your baby will also squeal, gurgle, and snort due to several reasons. Squealing is indicative of delight, but can also point to discomfort if it continues for extended periods.

Gurgling and snorting may indicate congestion. This is because,

  • they are battling remnants of amniotic fluid in the body
  • they have tiny airways, making it hard for mucus to flow, coupled with the inability to blow the mucus out
  • they can only breathe 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?

Your baby will also growl to express anger at not being fed fast enough, and show discomfort because of a lack of stimulation. He will also chuckle, sigh, and belch to reflect contentment. This will happen following tickling, a response to humor, and full tummy.

Your baby will begin bubbling at 4 – 6 months, because he is learning to utter new-found words. Depending on your language, words such as ma, ba, da may be used to mean mama, baba, and daddy, or nothing at all.

He will pick this up in the months that follow, and will mimic his favorite sounds coming from birds, a catchy chorus in a song, or even the sound of a siren, if one passes by regularly.

The little baby baby will become ecstatic when his favorite bird passes by, his catchy song is played, and when an ambulance drives by.

2. Common body gestures babies use

baby langugae through sucking a finger
(Photo by Nyana Stoica on Unsplash)

Motor development in babies starts the day they are born, when they experiment with rooting & sucking reflexes.

Somehow, your baby will crane the neck in the direction of the nipple out of reflex. The same is true when he is touched on either side of the cheek. He will turn towards the affected side with the mouth open and ready to take in milk.

This and other automatic body reflexes are normal responses that help babies feed and respond to extremes such as noise, light, and temperature.

The jerky arms and legs, and twisting of the head from side to side, are also helpful in strengthening body muscles.

Inside the second month, your baby will notice the presence of her own arm 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 using body gestures such as wiggling, arching, coiling, yawning, clenching fists, crawling, and stretching of the arms and legs.

Wiggling is usually accompanied by crying early on to indicate rapid development in the nervous system, something you should not worry 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 go to the extremes, you may want to swaddle your baby.

At around 6 – 7 months when the baby is beginning to crawl, she will use body position by pointing to where she wants to go. She will beckon to be lifted up by a show of hands and lean/crawl in a certain direction to let you know where she wants to be taken.

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 simply hunger.

Yawning may indicate the baby is in a relaxed state of mental wellbeing, is bored, tired, and desires to sleep. On the other hand, stretching of arms and legs may indicate the baby is relaxed. Your baby could be hungry when she clenches the fists.

3. Common facial expressions & signals

baby language through gestures
(A Pexels image)

To communicate with you, your baby will smile and make eye contact, in addition to using facial expressions. However, a smile during the 1st and 2nd months is usually a reflex action, and not a real smile. It will also happen when your baby is passing gas.

As the baby grows into the 3rd month, however, the smiles will evolve into responses to your smiles. This is a good indication he is learning how to communicate.

Babies also show responses to anger, boredom, excitement, fear, and discomfort through facial expressions. They will twist their faces and cry to show anger, and throw objects around to indicate boredom due to overstimulation.

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

There are multiple other reasons why babies 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 vital to remember that the above-mentioned language development is not universal.

The timeline of sounds, gestures, and facial expressions may vary due to the environment, the health of the baby, and other external factors.

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

  • Talk to your baby regularly
  • Sing to your baby because they love hearing your voice and sweet melodies
  • Prioritize breast milk since it is the ultimate antidote against illnesses
  • Create a healthy environment and hygiene for the baby to achieve the development milestones without hindrances

Finally, take them out.

After about 4 months and growing, children desire to explore the outdoors to experience nature first hand. The outdoor experience is important for baby language, because it allows them to interact with nature and explore the senses of sound, smell, sight, and touch.

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