Understanding Your Baby’s Cues

by on February 23, 2012

in Baby 0-12 Months

baby rubbing eyesBefore a baby learns to talk, he communicates by sending out signals and cues. There are different baby cues for hunger and need for closeness. It never fails to frustrate new parents who are feeling helpless and clueless about what their baby needs. How do parents decode these cues and respond to their child’s needs and wants? Let us look at some of the more common cues that baby sends.


Crying is one of the most common cues a baby gives out. Whether he is hungry, tired or in pain, a baby will cry to gain attention. But how do we discern the hungry cry from the tired cry?

Hungry Crying

A baby will cry when he is hungry. These are usually short, low-pitched cries that last only around a second. Respond to your baby’s cries quickly and feed him, or the cries will become increasingly louder and more intense.

Distress Crying

Babies will let out a cry of distress when they are feeling pain or discomfort. Unlike the hungry cries, these cries are loud, long and continuous. There are also no variations in pitch.

Respond to your baby’s distress quickly. Has he bumped into something? Check your baby’s diapers. Perhaps it is soiled or pricking your child’s sensitive skin.

Tired Crying

When a baby is tired, he lets out a soft wail. These are longer then the hungry cries, but softer then the distress cries.

Babies require plenty of sleep to regain their energy level. They get tired and cranky easily if they have been awake for more than a couple of consecutive hours. Ensure that your child has enough rest; put him to sleep by rocking him rhythmically or by stroking his back or chest.

Stress-Release Crying

Babies, too, feel stress and trauma. Perhaps a loud sound scared or startled him; maybe he is overwhelmed by the colours and environment of this new world. There are times where babies just need to express their feelings and release all the accumulated stress.

Crying is a vital recovery process to help your newborn ease into this unfamiliar world. Tears are a psychological aid that helps to wash away emotional chemical compositions (such as stress hormones). Let your baby cry it out. Frantic hushing only serves to teach your child to stifle pent-up emotions.

Simply be around to give a comforting and supporting presence. Smile and be positive, after your baby dries up his tears.


This is usually a sign that the baby is getting tired. Just as you would rub a sore muscle, a baby would rub his eyes to relief himself of his eye soreness. Being awake for a long period of time also dries up his eyes, rubbing is a way to bring some tears and moisturise his tired eyes. Respond by putting him down for a nap.


Rubbing of ears could mean very different things. As ears are a sensitive part of the body, some babies derive comfort from rubbing them. Look at your baby’s expression carefully. Does he look like he is comforted?

If not, check your child’s temperature. If he has a fever of over 38.4 deg Celsius, there is a high possibility that he may have developed an ear infection. Consult a doctor as soon as possible.

If there is no fever, perhaps he may be teething. During teething, babies experience discomfort in their gums. Pulling of ears is a way many babies relief themselves of the gum soreness. Check for other symptoms of baby teething. If you are sure your baby is teething, apply a thin layer of teething gel or allow him to chew on baby crackers to sooth the discomfort.


Squirming and arching his back is a tell-tale cue that your baby is feeling uncomfortable in his current position. By wriggling about, your child is attempting to move himself into a more comfortable pose.

At a few months old, your baby has yet to learn body coordination. He could merely arch his back in hopes to roll around. Help him into ease by changing his position for him.


Research has shown that a baby usually fist his hands when he is hungry and wants to be fed. He continues to hold his fingers tight until he is fed and satisfied. Once he is full, he will relax and open their hands.


A baby’s smile is very genuine. This is a sign of happiness and contentment. Be positive. Laugh and smile back at your baby to encourage him.


Babies look away and deliberately break eye contact when they are feeling overwhelmed. He will turn away from you and focus on something (note that it is something, not someone) else. Many new parents and over-enthusiastic adults would not get the hint and try moving into the child’s line of vision again. This will probably result in the baby launching his distress crying.

When your baby turns away from you, stop trying to gain his attention (this will only worsen the situation)! Your child needs personal space and downtime just as you do. Respect that and give your baby some time of his own.

[Do Check Out Our Other Blog Posts: How To Help My Baby Talk and As Your Baby Starts Teething]

It is important for parents to pick up different infant cues, such as baby cues for hunger and distress. Respond to their needs and they will soon learn that you love them and will always be there to help them.

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