Your little one might not be able to speak yet, but don’t undervalue the significance of their nonverbal signals. Uncover effective ways to interpret your infant’s body language and explore new ways to communicate with your child.
As an avid reader of celebrity magazines, I feel equipped to remark on the gestures of Hollywood’s finest. However, interpreting the body language of my 3-month-old is a different challenge altogether. Despite Addy being my third child, I still struggle to grasp her hiccups, head nods, and unusual hand positions. Just the other day, she was vigorously sucking her fists, leading me to believe she was hungry. So, I fed her until she regurgitated, covering both our outfits in the process.
When your child is young, it’s important to pay close attention to the movements they make before they can talk. Baby’s actions “certainly send messages that tell you what your child needs,” says J. Kevin Nugent, Ph.D., director of the Brazelton Institute in Boston and author of Your Baby Is Communicating to You. Your baby’s mood will improve, and you’ll learn a lot about her character if she can read and respond to you.
Experts on infants and toddlers shed light on the meanings behind some frequent baby gestures for parents like me who are lost in translation. Here are some communication “hints” to help you with your own special VIP.
An infant’s arch may be a response to pain, but as a toddler it may be an expression of defiance. According to Dr. Ari Brown, author of Baby 411, heartburn is the most likely cause in such cases.
What to do:
Your infant may have reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if they arch their back during eating and cry or spit up frequently. This occurs when stomach acid flows backward and irritates the esophagus.
Dr. Brown says that babies arch their backs when acid from their stomachs rises into their esophagus because it hurts. In cases where an arched back isn’t associated with feeding, it may be a sign that your infant is frustrated and needs reassurance.
See your child’s pediatrician if you think they are experiencing GERD or acid reflux. After feedings, they may suggest thickening the baby’s formula or milk and propping up the infant’s head. Medicine for your newborn is a last resort.
2. Continuous Kicking
Maybe your little one will grow up to be a professional soccer player or a Rockette, but what’s currently happening behind the kiddie kick line? Nevertheless, this is conditional on their behavior outside of school. “If your kid seems cheerful and smiley, it’s definitely a sign that they want to play,” says Claire McCarthy, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School at Children’s Hospital Boston. Yet, if your infant is fussy or crying, it’s usually because of an underlying issue.
What to do:
Dr. McCarthy advises parents to give their child a quick once-over to determine the cause of her discomfort. “It might be anything from gas to a dirty diaper to a cramped car seat,” she says. You should know that some infants may kick their legs simply because they can. If you rule out any health problems, it could be time to look into soccer camps.
It’s unsettling to watch your 10-month-old smash their drumstick-style skull against the wooden floor or crib bars. Nonetheless, many young children do this repeatedly without apparent discomfort. That hurts, but why?
Catherine Nelson, M.D., a physician at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, says babies find the repetitive back-and-forth motion calming.
What to do:
Don’t just disregard it entirely. Dr. Brown recommends mentioning prolonged head banging to your pediatrician during a checkup if you see your child isn’t interacting with others or playing with their toys. Remember that most children outgrow this habit by age 3, so if it persists until that point, there’s another reason to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
4. Snatching Their Ears
Avoid jumping to the conclusion that ear pulling means illness. Dr. Nelson warns parents not to hurry to that conclusion, saying that, more often than not, the infant is simply becoming aware of her own aural capabilities. In fact, ear-pulling is not usually indicative of an ear infection, as Seattle Children’s Hospital explains. (But, the warning signs of an ear infection include these: a high temperature, nasal congestion, and nighttime awakenings.)
What to do:
You should congratulate your infant on finding this bodily part, but you should also keep a watch on it. When the first-year molars come in, “babies will sometimes pull on their ears,” Dr. Brown explains. If so, give them extra reassurance and comfort using teething rings and cuddles.
5. Clenched Fists
Is your little one showing signs of being a little rough around the edges? Dr. Brown explains that babies often lay their hands like this when they are calm. As moving one’s fingers and hands demands a better developed nervous system and more complex brain activity, your infant is limited in what she can accomplish at this time.
By the time they’re 3 or 4 months old, most babies have mastered the skills necessary to reach out and grip objects. Yet, a trained newborn nurse in New York City named S. Michelle Long adds that clenched fists sometimes indicate stress or even hunger. Babies, in my experience, get physically stiff when they are extremely hungry.
What to do:
Make sure your infant, younger than three months, isn’t hungry or in a bad mood. Toys, such as a gentle rattle, can assist infants in learning to grasp and hold objects. After three months, you should consult a physician if your child’s habit of clenching their fists has not improved.
6. Scrunched-Up Knees
Your child is not performing an abdominal exercise despite what you may think. According to Dr. Nelson, “this position is typically a sign of stomach discomfort,” which could be caused by gas, passing a bowel movement, or constipation. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but whatever you do behind closed doors in the bathroom, your baby is probably doing too.
What to do:
As much as possible, please try to make them more comfortable. Make sure to burp your baby frequently while feedings if gas seems to be an issue. During nursing, it’s important to ensure you’re not eating gassy foods like broccoli or beans.
See your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned about constipation, which is common throughout the time of transition from breast milk to formula and the introduction of solid foods (often around 6 months). Your pediatrician’s advice will be conditional on your baby’s age and health.
7. Arm Jerks
Your child is ready for a nap because he or she is drowsy yet alert. They are startled into wide-eyed alertness as you gently place them in the cot, and their arms thrash to the sides.
Doctor McCarthy believes this is a common birth response. The Moro reflex is the formal scientific name for this phenomenon. Whenever a child is startled by a loud sound, bright light, or quick movement, they will reflexively thrust their arms out to the sides and then quickly return them back to the center of the body.
What to do:
According to Dr. Nelson, this reflex typically fades away between the ages of three and four months since it is a reaction to a sudden lack of support, such as when a child has a false sense of falling. You can prevent the startle-to-wake reflex by swaddling your baby before naptime and bedtime.
Meaningful articles you might like: How To Make Your Infant Enjoy Vegetables, Infant Formula and Constipation – What You Need To Know, How To Calm Your Infant’s Upset Stomach – 17 Easy Steps