How to recognise and respond to newborn cues

How to recognise and respond to newborn cues

Sadly babies don’t come with a manual, and with all of the different opinions and advice about when you should feed your newborn and when to settle them to sleep, it can become confusing and sometimes stressful. Should they be on a routine? How long should they be awake? How much milk do they need? How much stimulation do they need? How and when do you play with them? You probably have so many questions about your beautiful new baby…and perhaps it’s even preventing you from fully enjoying them.

This is the time to settle in and focus on getting to know your special little person. Your baby is communicating their needs, and you are learning how and when to respect and respond to them. It can be difficult at first to read their signals, but the following tips should help to inform and empower you as your relationship begins to develop.

How to recognise and respond to newborn cues

Before we look at newborn cues, it’s important that you know these three things:
  1. Your baby is unique. Do not compare them to anyone else or expect them to be meeting their milestones at the same time as another baby (even their siblings).
  2. You cannot spoil a baby by holding them, comforting them, or feeding them to sleep. You are not making a rod for your own back or creating bad habits. Forget any ideas about a routine for now.
  3. Learn about the fourth trimester if you haven’t already. Seeing what this period of infancy is like from your baby’s perspective will help you find the best ways to support them and make it more pleasurable for you.

Recognising and responding to your baby’s cues not only makes life easier for you, but makes your baby feel safe and secure. If you watch your baby closely, you will gradually get to know your baby’s individual cues. They might look similar to these or could be a combination of several.

‘I’m tired’ newborn cues

Crying is usually a late tired sign, which means that your baby could be harder to settle or stay asleep due to the increased cortisol (stress hormone) in their body. Try to catch your baby’s early tired signs:

  • Decreased activity and slower motions (if your baby suddenly slows down, stares into the distance, or loses interest in people or toys).
  • Yawning and beginning to fuss.

How to respond to tired cues: It’s a good idea to respond quickly, even leaving it ten minutes can lead to overtiredness and a cranky baby. Settle your baby to sleep however you prefer, whether it’s a feed and a cuddle, popping them in the carrier and going for a walk, or swaddling and settling them in their sleep space.

‘I’m hungry’ newborn cues

Newborns need to feed regularly, so you may need to look for these signs every 1-2 hours. Again, crying is a late sign. Your baby’s hunger cues might look like:

  • Sticking their tongue out
  • Turning their head from side to side
  • Putting their hands in their mouth
  • Making sucking noises
  • Turning towards the breast

How to respond to hunger cues: Even if you think they couldn’t already be hungry again, offer a breast (you might be interested in our article on breastfeeding positions for newborns) or bottle as soon as you’re both comfortable and calm.

‘I need a break’ newborn cues

Babies are social beings (as in they love being with you) but they do need some downtime. Depending on their individual temperament, some babies can become easily overstimulated even if you’re just chatting to them, and they’ll signal that they need a break. They might show you these signs:

  • Break in eye contact
  • Yawning and beginning to wriggle
  • Starting to get upset

How to respond to overstimulation cues: Give your baby some quiet time, move them to a calmer environment, change their position, or settle them for a sleep.

‘I’m ready to engage’ newborn cues

There isn’t a lot of time to engage with newborns in the first couple of weeks. By the time you’ve fed, burped, and changed them, they’re ready for more sleep. But, as they become more alert and can go slightly longer stretches, the clearest signs that they’re ready to engage is the fact that they’ve slept and fed recently.

How to respond to engagement cues: Soak them up! Chat to them, read them a book, sing a song, give them a massage, or take them for a walk. It can be a small window of opportunity, so spend the time being present, deepening your connection with them, and strengthening your relationship. These experiences are calming and wonderful for you both, but they also are vital to your newborn’s development.

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