Your spent nine months planning, preparing, and executing the most perfect nursery (one which puts most Pinterest boards to shame).
You read all the baby books, had your birth plan ready to go, and made it through labor like a complete boss-lady goddess.
Everything should be perfect except that your baby is fine one moment and then suddenly it’s like a bomb goes off!
Unbeknownst to most first time parents, newborns display early cues right before they erupt in a crying frenzy. If you can recognize baby cues early and tend to your baby’s need, you will avoid the explosion all together.
So in the spirit of saving everyone’s sanity, let’s explore these elusive baby cues that most first-time parents miss.
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Before we talk about baby cues, I want to offer a few words of encouragement.
You are doing a great job with your baby!
Please don’t feel bad about missing early cues. I am a trained registered nurse, who worked in the NICU for years, and I still missed early cues from my own son sometimes!
Baby cues can be as subtle as a yawn or quiver in their precious little lips.
As time passes, you will get to know your baby on a personal level and be able to predict needs quickly and efficiently.
Baby cues are simply the best way that our little ones can communicate with us at this stage.
It is in these small nonverbal behaviors that parents get a glimpse at what is going on in their tiny little brains.
Pretty soon you will be able to spot one the second it appears. Alright, let’s get on to the specifics.
Related: Tips to survive and thrive the first few weeks home with a newborn
Subtle Baby Cues to Watch Out For
The rooting cue is present from birth to about four months of age. When you stroke your baby’s cheek, he will reflexively turn his head towards that side.
The rooting cue is more of a reflex at first. It helps all the babies find those boobies so they can eat!
When you see your baby turning his head side to side and slowly moving his lips around, this is the earliest sign of hunger. The rooting cue can begin very subtly at first and it’s easy to miss.
It almost looks like babies are just yawning or wiggling around.
Try offering them your breast or a bottle because you will satisfy their hunger need early.
Missing the early rooting cue can progress into the disorganized searching phase where babies frantically move their head from side to side. You may find it harder to get your baby to latch in this phase.
If you further miss this cue, your baby will likely progress to more aggressive means of getting your attention.
Loud screeching cries!
Rooting cues seen after 4 months is done less reflexively and more on purpose. It still means the same thing.
“Feed me mama!”
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2. Hands to mouth
Babies bring their hands to their mouth all the time for different reasons.
If you noticed your baby rooting and then it progresses to bringing hands to mouth with vigorously sucking, this means she is hungry.
Other times, babies bring hands to mouth for comfort when they are overwhelmed or overstimulated. This is one of the ways babies will learn to self soothe.
Lastly, infants begin to put their hands in their mouths when they are teething because their gums hurt.
To figure out what your baby needs, start with feeding. If the last time she ate was an hour or two ago or short-lived it’s best to offer the breast or bottle just in case. If your baby doesn’t want to eat she will let you know.
If you had a prolonged conversation while holding your or she has been passed around to different people, hands to mouth could mean it is time to provide a low stimulation environment. Go to an empty room and allow your baby to settle.
If your baby is drooling more than normal or extremely fussy, feel around the gums, especially the front of the mouth. If one area is harder than others a tooth could be poking through.
Some babies get teeth as early a three months, the poor things. My son got his first two teeth at four months!
3. Clenching hands
Babies will clench their hands when something isn’t right. You will know they are clenching because the skin around the inner part of their hands will turn white (or lighter if your baby has dark skin) from lack of blood flow.
Clenching hands often means there is some digestive discomfort going on such as difficulty pooping or gas pain.
Look at your baby’s belly to see if it is bulging out or changing shape like they are having difficulty pushing.
If the belly seems particularly rounder than usual and you can see visible veins, your baby is probably constipated or dealing with too much gas.
Try gently massaging different areas of the belly in a circular motion. Do NOT push hard on your baby’s belly. Your massage should not meet any resistance.
You can also bicycle their legs softly to help move their bowels along. You may notice some sweet little toots while doing this!
4. Turning away
When your baby seems to turn her head away and stare into space, this could be a sign of overstimulation.
Babies easily become overstimulated. It can happen in crowds or even at home when you have played for an extended period.
Turning away is a natural defense mechanism for babies to protect their developing minds. They are attempting to center themselves out of the environmental excess.
One thing of the best things to do when this happens in public is to place your baby in an infant wrap and cover their face with the wrap or a burp cloth.
This will help minimize the stimulation other than your heartbeat.
If you are at home, try placing them in a safe place like an infant lounger and leaving them alone for a few minutes. She might even fall asleep!
5. Pulling ears
Infants rub or pull their ears when they are overly tired/stimulated.
It could also mean they have an ear infection, but this is much less likely.
If your infant begins to pull their ears and rub their eyes, put them to bed immediately.
Have you ever been super tired and are yawning like crazy but you stay up a little longer to finish a riveting episode on Netflix? When the episode is over you force yourself to turn off the TV and get some sleep.
As you lay there in the dark you find it difficult to drift into slumber and wonder why you stopped yourself from finishing the series in the first place?
Being overly tired happens to adults too.
Waiting too long to go to sleep causes your adrenals to release cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps your body cope with the stress from keeping the mind engaged.
Once those hormones are circulating through an adult or a baby’s bloodstream, all hopes of falling asleep peacefully and quickly goes out the window.
Pulling ears are often a signal that this process is already happening. Next time be on the lookout for early tired cues such as yawning and zoning out as we talked about earlier.
6. Arching Back
When a baby stretches out and arches his back it usually mean he is either done eating and trying to pull away from the breast/bottle, overly full, or having reflux.
If you notice your baby arching back and then develops hiccups, this definitely means he is stuffed to the rafters!
Hiccups appear when our stomach presses on our diaphragm, which happens when we fill it beyond capacity.
To help your baby with pain, make sure you burp him softly after feeding. You can also hold him upright for 30-45 minutes to let gravity help move things along in their GI tract.
Babies are simple but intelligent creatures. You will probably see the way your baby expresses these simple cues change over time and as they develop.
The most important thing to do as a new parent is to just observe your baby.
Don’t overanalyze every little thing they are doing. You will drive yourself crazy that way.
Time and attention will help you interpret your baby’s cues. Don’t blame yourself for missing and early tired or hunger sign.
Sometimes you just deal with the crying and tend to your baby’s needs when you finally figure it out.
Related: Why is my baby crying? A head to toe approach to soothe a crying baby when nothing is working
As long as you provide a safe, loving home your baby will grow up to become an energetic toddler who will have you out of breath in no time! Want some toddler tips?
Very helpful! Expecting my first in about 8 weeks and trying to learn as much as possible. I won’t have any family around so preventing the baby from crying by listening to cues will help!Thank you!