It will be months before your newborn will utter anything that sounds like real word, and probably a year or more before those sounds turn into words with real meaning behind them. So how are you to understand your newborn’s wants and needs now? Luckily, babies are equipped with ways to communicate right from birth. The trick is figuring out how to recognize and interpret them. Here are six tips that will have you on your way to reading your baby like a book.

Baby Yawning

Photo: Harald Groven via Flickr

In a Mood

Identifying your newborn’s mood is a good place to start. There are six states of consciousness for a baby. In deep sleep, her eyes will be closed and her body still. In light sleep, her eyes may open briefly and she may move or startle more easily. Drowsy is when baby is sleepy or dozing but isn’t fully asleep yet. Quiet alert is when she is awake, but her body is still and she seems focused. Active alert is wide awake with movement of the face and body. The last state is crying, in which she may squirm and be difficult to soothe. Knowing what state she is in will help you know the best way interact with her.

Baby Sucking on Finger

Photo: Family O’Abe via Flickr

Body Language

A newborn’s body can say a lot. Sucking on hands or fingers is a sure sign that he’s hungry, as is rooting (turning his head to the side and opening his mouth). Turning his head away when you attempt to play is a sign of overstimulation. Then it’s best to wait until he turns back to you to try to play or talk to him. Rubbing his eyes, yawning or a glazed over look indicates he’s tired. Don’t wait, put him to bed right away. A smile lets you know your baby is content or happy. Smile back and revel in it. Telling him how much you like his smiles encourages him to do it more.

Baby Crying

Photo: Beth via Flickr

Cry Like a Baby

The number one tool a newborn has to communicate is crying. The Dunston Baby Language, or DBL, method is a way to listen to baby’s pre-cry noises and cries to decode them into something parents understand. You can train yourself to hear one of five phonetic sounds your little one will make prior to crying. Each sound has a different meaning, like “neh” that translates into “I’m hungry.” Then you can respond accordingly and avoid a meltdown. You might also notice your babies cries taking on different pitches or intensities. Identify what kind of cry it is and what works to soothe that particular cry.

Baby Talk

Photo: Dean Wissing via Flickr

Little Babbler

By two to three months old, babies will be able to vocalize beyond crying to communicate. They will coo and babble, imitate voice inflection, and even laugh. This is the beginning of a conversation between you and your little bundle of joy. Reply to her noises, narrate your activities for her when she’s awake and alert, and pause to let her contribute to the conversation.

Baby Log app

Start a Schedule(ish)

Foster a schedule for your newborn. Though the schedule will be less about watching the clock and more about noticing the rhythm of your baby’s day. Use a simple chart to keep track of his eating, sleeping, and diapering needs. At first it may not feel like there is any rhyme or reason to these things, but once you start to pay attention, you will notice patterns appearing. You can use these patterns to more easily recognize what your newborn is needing at that time of day. There’s even an app for that! Two to try are My Baby & Me and Baby Log.

Baby Sign Language

Photo: ckmck via Flickr

Know the Signs

What better way for baby to communicate what she wants than by actually telling you? Not with her mouth but with her hands. Babies are able to use sign language long before they can talk. As early six months old, she has the cognitive and motor skills to begin signing. It’s best to introduce the concept well before her half-birthday as it usually takes a few months before she will do it on her own. Here are some great starter signs to try.

The fact is you’re the expert on your own newborn. By paying attention, listening, observing and loving your baby, you already have the most important tools you need to understand what they want. Babies will fuss, cry and laugh, but your love for them will speak loud enough for the two of you.

What successful ways have you tried to figure out what your baby wants? Let us know in the comments.

–Katie L. Carroll