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How to Understand Your Baby's Wants and Needs Based on Mood States and Cues

How to Understand Your Baby's Wants and Needs Based on Mood States and Cues

Knowing these cues and stages will help you become a baby whisperer.


One of the most astonishing revelations about newborns is their ability to communicate almost from birth. Without words, he can inform when he wants to eat, when he wants to play, and even when he wants to rest. Healthy babies are constantly changing the state they are in, giving cues. Identifying the state your baby is in and recognizing her cues are keys to becoming a “baby whisperer”. In a baby’s world, every 24 hours is considered a “day” filled with eating, sleeping, and a constant shift between infancy “states.”
    

Baby States or Stages

Infant behavior is organized into six states with increasing intensity:

  1. Crying: It will take time to calm your baby.
        
  2. Irritable: Your baby will be distracted by external and internal stimuli.
       
  3. Quiet Alert: This ideal state, but it can end abruptly.
       
  4. Drowsy: This is a great time to encourage sleep.
       
  5. Light Sleep: The first 30 minutes of a babies 60-minute sleep cycle. This is a very light state of sleep and the baby will most likely wake when he is put down.
       
  6. Deep Sleep: In sharp contrast to light sleep, this is the second 30 minutes of a baby’s 60-minute sleep cycle. If you put a baby down during deep sleep, she will most likely stay asleep.

    
Knowing and being able to recognize the six infant states puts you one step closer to becoming a baby whisperer.

Here is a mock scenario:

Problem: My baby only wants to sleep on my chest and wakes up every time I put him down.



Solution: If a baby is drowsy with heavy, glazed eyes, referring to infant states listed above, you could encourage sleep by reducing stimulation and add one soothing technique. Wait 30 minutes until the baby is in deep sleep, not light sleep, before putting him down in his crib.
    

Engagement Cues vs. Disengagement Cues

There are two cues infants will give that will clue you in even more to how they’re feeling: Engagement Cues and Disengagement Cues. It’s common to not understand these cues, and accidentally over-stimulate your baby.

When your baby wants to engage, look for wide-open eyes, as if she is trying to memorize what she sees. His face and body will be relaxed, and he will use smooth body movements. Your baby is asking for help to learn more about you and her world. Enjoy this time together, but be prepared to watch for important signs.

If your baby wants to disengage, he may close his eyes, turn his face or body away from you, or arch or twist his body away. Her muscles will be tense, and she may frown or look like she is about to cry. If he’s not allowed to take a break, he will start to cry. Older babies will stiffen their hands and bring them up towards their faces. If your infant is showing any of these cues, let her take a break. Stop whatever you’re doing and reduce stimulation in the environment (noises, lights, toys, or interactions).

   
Awareness of these states and cues create a beautiful bonding experience, helping you become an expert baby whisper.

 

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Jennifer Ritchie

Author:

Jennifer Ritchie is an internationally board-certified lactation consultant, published author, and owner of Milkalicious. Ritchie was inspired to become a lactation consultant after struggling to find breast-feeding support when her daughter was born. Through her own experiences, Ritchie also saw the need for a more realistic, personalized, and evidence-based approach to educating and supporting new mothers about breast-feeding.

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