Responding to My Baby
By learning and listening to your baby’s cues, and responding appropriately, you’re building a trusting and caring relationship. Helping your baby learn how to trust is an important part of developing healthy relationships in the future and ultimately building resilience.
What are your baby's cues?
Babies typically communicate using cues, such as noises, gestures, facial expressions and other body language. By paying attention to their cues, you can learn what they need and feel.
Does your baby act differently when they’re:
- Tired? Maybe their cues are rubbing their eyes, being fussy or stretching and yawning.
- Hungry? Maybe their cues are sucking on their hands or fists, making sucking noises, rooting (searching for a breast or bottle nipple with their mouth) or flexing their hands, arms or legs.
- Too hot or too cold? Maybe their cues are getting extra fussy, looking flushed or feeling sweaty.
- Alert and/or excited? Maybe their cues are smiling, babbling, or waving their arms or legs.
- In need of a diaper change? Maybe their cue is crying.
Overstimulated (needing a calmer setting)? Maybe their cues are crying, turning their head away from you or sucking on their fingers.
How can you respond to your baby's cues?
Did you know that responding to your baby’s cues goes beyond just meeting their needs in the moment? When your baby does something (like cries or laughs) and you respond appropriately (by picking them up, talking to them or smiling back), you’re attuned to their needs. This is called responsive caregiving. In other words, you’re letting them know that you’re responsive and that their needs are being met. These kinds of back-and-forth interactions have a positive impact on your baby’s brain development. They also strengthen the bond between you and your baby by letting them know they're safe and cared for.
Here are a few ways you can respond to your baby’s cues:
- When your baby is alert, talk to them about what’s going on.
- If your baby appears tired, start to wind down and prepare them for sleep.
- If your baby appears hungry, try feeding them.
- If your baby smiles, smile back and name their feeling. For example, say, “You look happy!”
Even though your baby can’t talk yet, it’s still important you communicate with them during these interactions. By talking to them regularly, you’re teaching them words and sounds, which helps them start to learn language and communication skills.
How can you soothe your crying baby in the moment?
Sometimes you may not know why your baby is upset. Even if that is the case, you can still try to soothe them. Learning how to soothe your baby takes time, and what works one day may not work the next.
Try these different strategies for soothing your fussy baby:
- Address basic needs. Check to see if your baby is sleepy, hungry, feverish, too hot or too cold, or if they have a dirty diaper.
- Provide comfort. Engage in skin-to-skin or close contact with your baby while gently rocking them or rubbing their back or belly. Make eye contact with, smile at, sing or read to your baby. Talk calmly to them. You can also try making a gentle “shush” noise with your mouth (mimicking a sound machine) or swaddling them.
- Sit with your baby in a quiet, dark, calm space. Try as best you can to reduce noises or anything that may be causing your baby to feel overwhelmed, stressed or overstimulated. A quiet and dimly lit room is preferable. Keep in mind that taking your baby to a new environment might be overstimulating, but so can sitting at home. TVs, toys that light up or make noise, music and even visitors can all overstimulate your baby. Even if you’re feeling up to having friends and family over, your baby may not be. Learning your baby’s cues can help you decide what’s best for your baby at any given moment.
- Move around or change your surroundings. Take your baby outside for a walk, or simply sit on a blanket and hold your baby while enjoying nice weather.
Can you spoil your baby?
You might wonder if responding to your baby’s every cue will spoil them.
Bottom line: Babies do not yet know how to comfort and soothe themselves. They need you to do it for them. The reality is that babies learn best by interacting with you. By offering lots of gentle touch, cuddling, smiling and making eye contact, you’re not spoiling your baby. Instead, you’re teaching your baby how to self-soothe and manage their feelings in the future.