When your baby first arrives in the world, in some ways it is the first time you have met them. During pregnancy, you would have felt baby moving, known the times of day that they were more or less active. You may have spoken to them, sung to them or even read stories and imagined all sorts of ideas about what sort of little person they were going to be, but when they emerge into the world, this is the first time you would have met face-to-face. This is of course stating the obvious, but it illustrates how new this relationship is. It takes time to get to know one another and to figure out your baby’s cues. Each baby will communicate in slightly different ways. Having said that, there are certain generalities which we can look out for.

During the first three months, typically called the fourth trimester, your baby’s prime preoccupation will be sleeping, eating and toileting, with a bit of wakeful play time thrown in. It is called the fourth trimester as your baby will spend a lot of the time asleep, not seeming to be really awake to the world. However, baby’s are innately social and are most of all drawn to other people’s faces. Your newborn will be able to interact with you, just try sticking your tongue out and be sure to be patient for their response! Babies need you to survive, so they want to be able to interact with and be around you. When your baby is awake, this will often be quite short, around an hour and their sounds will often be squeaks and of course cries, rather than vocalisations at this stage. When your little one is ready for play, their expression may look interested and their mouth in more of an ‘oo’ shape,’ suggesting excitement and they may move their hands or make verbal sounds.  When making disgruntled noises and squirming, this may be their way of letting you know they need to be noticed. Although this may feel a demand at times, social stimulation is incredibly important and necessary for your little one. This helps with their general development and particularly with the beginnings of their ability to recognise emotion, to learn about others and develop a sense of who they are. This all underpins your baby’s development of a secure attachment. You will also be rewarded by the smiles of your baby, which tend to emerge in the second month of life. All the sleeplessness and exhaustion can feel momentarily lifted when you see your little one smile at you, sometimes just for walking into the room! Please hold in mind that it is literally impossible to ‘spoil’ your tiny baby by giving them too much attention. As long as you follow their cues, they will almost always be happy to be held and noticed and this will give them a wonderful sense of safety and care.

When your baby is this little, they can feel terror when they are hungry and overwhelmed quickly by physical sensations such as tiredness and trapped wind. This is because they are incredibly vulnerable and entirely dependent upon your ministrations. Babies will express their distress not only through crying, but how they hold their bodies, such as arching their back. Cries themselves have different qualities, from a grizzle to a big shout. You may pick up in time that different cries let you know about different types of need, i.e., I’m hungry, tired or scared. If you are breast feeding, you will find that your baby is adept at seeking out the breast. Turning to face your chest is usually a clear sign of hunger. They may also open their mouth, as if looking for the breast or the bottle, which is another indication of building hunger, together with sucking on their hands. Sucking is something that can also be used to try to manage how they may be feeling, to soothe themselves, so is not always indicative of hunger. If you spot these cues, this can help to prevent your baby from becoming too upset. Indicators of tiredness can include yawning, rubbing their eyes and seeming to stare at one spot with a blank expression. The last of these is your baby’s way of trying to reduce any stimulation.

If your baby is suffering with wind, their face may go red, or they might kick their legs, have their hands in tight fists, their facial expression suggestive of discomfort and pain. All these behaviours can also let you know that your baby is struggling with the situation they are in. This could be prompted by feeling intruded upon, for example, if the person holding or talking to them is too close, or perhaps they are feeling unsafe in some way. If you notice this, it is really helpful to draw back a bit and to acknowledge what you see. To manage what they are feeling, your baby may turn their face away. It is really helpful for them if you wait for them to be ready to turn back, rather than trying to get their attention. Babies cannot remove themselves from interactions and situations as we can, so they will turn their bodies. This is also a usual part of the way babies interact in everyday situations. Conversations, or proto-conversations at this age and interactions can be super stimulating for your little one, so they need to have regular breaks to moderate themselves so it is manageable for them, which they do by turning away from you. This can feel rejecting, but please hold in mind it is not that they don’t want to talk to you or be with you, it is simply that they have not yet built up their ability to hold an interaction for very long without it becoming overwhelming. You are very much wanted, as you are the only way for them to survive. A terrifying responsibility at times.

Eye gaze is another great way that babies communicate. They may stare intently, at times using this to try and get to know you, which can be a really joyful or loving exchange, or it could be that it prompts in you feelings of wariness or uncertainty. Much of that may depend upon how you feel with your baby and what they feel when they are with you. Staring at what is in their environment, albeit not necessarily a direct communication, can let you know that they are absorbed in something, be that the contrast of shadow and light they see on the ceiling, or the movement of a toy.

If you are finding it hard to get to know your baby, or you feel really uncertain what it is they may be trying to let you know about what they need, then therapy with your little one can hep you tune in what they are experiencing.

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