UNDERSTANDING EVERY WRIGGLE & JIGGLE
When a newborn comes into my studio, I spend the first half an hour having a little conversation with him to find out what he likes, and also what he doesn’t like. My conversation obviously isn’t a two-way chitty chat, but more of an observation to see what your baby is telling me from his body language. It’s fascinating what you can find out from a few subtle, micro movements and if you learn to understand these cues, you can make your lives so much easier and respond appropriately to your baby’s every need.
Let me give you an example.
The first thing I do when I meet your baby is to pick him up out of the car seat and look at what his legs are doing. Are they stretched out straight, kicking about or lying still? This lets me know if he has a sore tummy or if a poo is imminent. When I lay the baby onto the mat, I can see if he is hungry or not, just by looking at the way his mouth moves or where his head is turned. I’ll also check if his body is taut and wriggly or floppy and relaxed, and I’ll look at his expression to see if there is a smile or a grimace.
So many people are amazed at the way I can settle a baby before a photo shoot – a happy baby is vital in order to get the images you want – but it is simply a case of reading the signs, understanding your baby’s body language and acting accordingly.
You can do it too, by simply reading below.
A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
Be aware that the cues are tiny, but they apply to all babies – it really is a universal language. But you need to react quickly - I can’t stress this enough! The chances are that your baby has been giving cues for some time before you spot them. Most parents don’t look for the signals until their baby is unhappy and restless and by this time it takes a lot longer to settle the baby back down again. The danger here is that by this time, the cues will no longer be visible because of all the screaming they’ll be doing. If you can get into the habit of noticing the signs early on and reacting before it becomes an issue, both Mum and baby will be the much happier for it. And the house will be a lot quieter!
Here’s a list of things that your baby might be trying to communicate to you, and what you should be looking out for:
‘I’M SOOOO TIRED’
You want to watch for the ‘I’m tired’ cues and catch them early. This is important so you can avoid over-tiredness and the screaming-for-two-hours scenario. Yep, we’ve all been there!
Here are some things to look out for…
For babies under three months:
Staring into the distance with no visible body movements. You will be familiar with the glassy-eyed stare. Sometimes it even looks as if your baby has fallen asleep with his eyes open.
Jerky arm movements. Your newborn will be wanting to rub his eyes, but isn’t able to control his arms to do so. What you’ll see, therefore, are little arm jerks that indicate the early stages of tiredness. Slightly older babies might scratch their faces. If you leave it too late, the arms will start thrashing around, at which point you need to react pretty quick!
Arching back. If you’ve got to this point, get your baby into a swaddle and into bed straight away because you are about to hit the scream button!
If your baby is a little bit older, there are additional signs to watch out for:
Eye rubbing or yawning
Fussing and frowning
Losing interest in people and toys. Most parents, when they see their newborns fussing, think they need entertaining and will keep stimulating them. Remember that no baby needs entertainment all day every day. They need time to rest and process. Give them a break and pop them in their bed!
It doesn’t take very long for a newborn baby to go from ‘I could sleep’ to ‘I’m so exhausted, it feels like I’ve run a marathon’. It might only be the difference of half an hour but the impact is huge. Bear in mind that after a sleep, a newborn shouldn’t be awake for any longer than an hour and a half. If you get to two hours, he will become overtired and you will find it really hard to calm him down enough to get him to sleep. Stick to the one and a half hours rule religiously for the first ten weeks at least. This time will gradually get longer as your baby gets older.
Feeding for the first three months should be on demand. Looking for baby’s hungry signs is a better way to work out when to feed than waiting a set number of hours.
But how can you be a good waitress if you don’t understand the language of your customer? The answer is to learn the cues for your customer and feed her accordingly.
The cues to look out for are:
Sucking noises (this happens when they are near Mum and can smell the milk).
Opening mouth wide and turning head towards breast as if looking for a feed. This is called ‘rutting’.
Rub your finger side-to-side over the newborns lips. If she tries to catch the finger, you know she is hungry. If she is fully satisfied, she won’t open her mouth. She might even try to suck Daddy’s nose! Many funny family moments to be had.
Keep an eye open for finger sucking too – newborns like to do that when they are hungry. (But at around three to four months, babies start doing this for comfort or because it’s interesting, so it won’t always mean it is feed time. This is why a dummy can be more helpful.)
‘GIVE ME A BREAK!’
It’s easy for a baby to feel over stimulated by everything going on around him and sometimes he just needs a break (don’t we all!). If you spot these cues early on, you will be able to give bub a rest. If, on the other hand, you keep going when your baby tries to tell you to stop, he might get upset and start thrashing around or fussing and crying.
Looking away from you when your face is close to his
Glassy-eyed look and staring into space
Lack of interaction; he won’t hold your gaze
An important point here is for Dad. Please read this!
Every dad I’ve ever met thinks it is his job to entertain, bounce around and keep the baby happy. They just can’t help it! Dads are notorious for being the clown and over stimulating a baby, particularly around bedtime. Every dad does it, and every mother hates it! It’s important that Dad realises when enough is enough – and he needs to recognise your baby’s cues telling him just that.
‘I NEED TO POO!!’
Baby body language lets us know when his tummy is feeling a bit out of sorts. This might be a tummy ache, and/or the need to fart and poo. You might see:
Stretching feet out
Bringing legs up to the chest
Going bright red and crying
Grimacing, grunting and bearing down
‘I’M GOING TO BURP’
It’s not always easy to know why your baby is fidgeting or getting upset. Here’s a good indicator that there is a burp brewing and that your baby is suffering from a spot of gas.
Upper lip becomes slightly greyish
If you see this, wind your baby and give gentle pats on the back until the burp is released! When patting, think of your baby’s stomach as a frothy latte. Patting on the back of your baby helps all the little bubbles of the froth become one big bubble, and rubbing upwards helps move that big bubble up and out.
THE BENEFITS ARE GREAT!
Understanding your baby’s micro movements will benefit the whole family - you’ll be able to cater for your baby’s needs, which will make for a happy and contented little one, which of course makes for a happy and relaxed mum. If your baby isn’t screaming the whole time, your mental health will improve considerably.
Sleep will also improve – yours and the baby’s. Understanding your baby will mean he will sleep more, and also wake up feeling happy and contented. And of course, you will sleep more too.
Learning your baby’s cues may take a little time, but the more tuned in you become, the greater the opportunity you are giving your baby to thrive in every single way. What more could you ask for?
If it takes you a little while to get the hang of it, here is a good rule of thumb as a starting point…
If your baby is moving his legs, you will know this is a communication about the digestive system. Farting, pooing, sore tummy, trapped wind etc.
If you baby is moving his arms or face, this is most likely to be a communication about feeding or sleeping.