Baby talk – What does an infant want to tell us?
Experienced parents can instantly understand the language of an infant under their care, even though the baby is not yet able to actually tell them about their needs. By observing the baby’s gestures and sounds, the parents quickly learn what the baby wants to say at a given time, making it easier to take care of them over time. Of course, this is does not happen immediately and without effort. The infant’s body language is only understood to those people who take care of them every day. People from outside, especially those that do not have much contact with children, may have a problem interpreting what an infant wants to say. Here are some tips to understanding an infant who is crying, clenching their fists or kicking their legs.
Crying, or the infant’s primary language – How do you recognise the types of baby cries?
Although it might seem that all crying sounds the same and means the same, an experienced parent is able to recognise what an infant wants to say by the sound. It turns out that the type of cries and the baby’s body language indicate when the infant is crying out of hunger, fear, pain or anger, or when they are simply trying to get their parents’ attention in this way.
- If a crying baby cannot be soothed by picking them up, holding or feeding them, it may indicate that pain is the problem. Pain-related crying is sharp, and its tone is high; sometimes there are even sounds interrupted by breathlessness.
- A lower-pitched crying, usually intermittent and short, may indicate hunger. When crying out of hunger, the baby often puts their fists in their mouth or makes lip- smacking sounds. This type of body language requires an urgent response, otherwise the crying will become more intense and turns almost into screaming.
- A light, intermittent whimpering with the baby looking around may indicate that they are simply bored. This type of cry usually ceases when the parent begins to speak to the baby or picks them up.
- We can also distinguish crying from being over-stimulated, which is a way for babies to release an emotional load. This usually occurs in the evening or in the afternoon and is preceded by the baby’s whining and irritation. This type of cry is usually recurrent, with the parent’s attempts to soothe the baby only having a
Body language or non-verbal language of an infant
The language of infants is not only crying, so feared by parents, but also many non-verbal signals displayed by the baby’s body. At first, parents may find this difficult to understand, but careful observation of the baby and its behaviour will help them easily see what the infant wants to say.
Babies often communicate using their hands. Clenching fists and tightening all their muscles usually means that the baby is angry or hungry. Kicking legs is usually a sign of joy or wanting to play. And how about an infant that closes their eyes very tightly? This body language of the baby may indicate that they are scared or feel uncomfortable. A conscious smile can appear at the sight of the parents, but also when the baby feels safe, is fed or wants to play. Turning the head away from the person looking is usually the baby’s body language indicating the need to break the eye contact. Rubbing the face or pulling
the ears may indicate fatigue and the need for a healthy baby to sleep.
How can you understand an infant and how do you see what it wants to say to its parents?
For someone who has not had any contact with children before, understanding infant language may seem almost like “black magic”. In fact, parents learn to recognise the baby’s body language when they take care of them every day. Above, we have provided examples of what an infant wants to say by making specific gestures. By observing the child, their reactions and behaviours, we unconsciously learn how to communicate with them, and after the first weeks together we can easily understand the baby’s non-verbal language. Observation and practice are simply the basis. We should also remember that every infant is different and may perform their own unique gestures, but an experienced parent will quickly learn by trial and error what the baby wants to say at any given moment.
Finally, we should also add that it is not only the parents learning to understand their baby’s body language, but the baby is also learning how to understand their parents. They do not do that by reading books or guides. They observe, associate facts and remember. They need some time, but practice makes perfect. With age, they will increasingly begin to “sense” their guardians and read their body language – including the hidden signs inconsistent with the adult’s words. They will probably take advantage of that, too!
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