Baby signs and language
Learn how to tell the difference between an overtired baby and a hungry one with this handy guide
At a glance
Crying is your baby’s first means of communication
Different cries signal if your baby is hungry, tired or in discomfort
Encourage your baby’s language by repeating different sounds
Your baby’s body language can tell you just as much as their cries
From birth, your baby has a natural urge to communicate through smiles, crying and even baby screaming which you’ll soon get to know inside out. At first they’re mainly concerned with physical needs but each tell will help you confidently know if your baby is hungry, tired or in pain.
As your baby grows, they'll use an ever-wider range of gestures and sounds, developing their personality and unique ways of expressing themselves. You may not yet fully understand why your baby is crying, but it helps if you respond by talking to help your baby learn to communicate better later on.
You know your baby’s behaviour best so always trust your instincts. But to help you, here are examples of typical baby behaviour and what it means.
I'm sleepy - a slow build-up of grunt-like cries while rubbing eyes. This means baby is tired. So put them down for a nap or for bed
I'm in pain – a sudden high-pitched shriek followed by a big breath and then another shriek. Check their temperature and undress your baby and check for sources of pain. If you’re unsure of anything and your baby is still uncomfortable, see a healthcare professional as soon as possible
I’ve got colic – Baby may regularly shriek at similar times in the late afternoon or evening for up to a few hours. Their face may become flushed, scrunched up and they may clench their fists, draw their knees up to their tummy, or arch their back if they are in any kind of pain. Soothe and try tummy massage and winding to relieve the gas pain. Seek medical advice for further tips
I'm angry – Loud crying while going red in the face usually means they're feeling angry or frustrated. Talk to your baby in a calm voice and try to distract with a toy
I'm feeling ignored – Yelling is a common way for your baby to attract attention and explore the sound of their voice. Answer them – try some tickles, peek-a-boo or play with some toys
I'm scared - Freezing on the spot is a common, instant response to seeing or hearing something sudden that makes them feel scared. Comfort your baby with a cuddle and talk to them to explain what’s happening
I'm hungry - Moving their tongue around simply means they're hungry. Time for a feed or a snack
I'm learning to talk – A regular babbling sound is your baby's way of trying to copy a grown-up's speech patterns. While you're getting to understand baby language they're exploring yours. Talk to your little one as much as you can and encourage them to repeat different sounds
I want that – Pointing at an object with their finger means they find it interesting and want to hold it. Offer your baby different objects to help them signal the one they want
I want to be picked up – Raising arms towards you means they want to be lifted up to be held or carried. Time to give your baby a cuddle
I want to play – Hiding their face in their hands is a typical way of getting your attention and means they're in a playful mood. Play peek-a-boo with hands and scarves
I'm really content - That angelic looking, satisfied smile means they're feeling happy and contented. Praise your baby lots and smile back for positive reinforcement
I'm having fun – They'll have a big lively smile on their face and their eyes will be bright and twinkling. You’ll need no encouragement to take lots of photos to capture that priceless moment