Understanding baby's changing cues as they grow and learn.

A cue from a baby is their way of trying to communicate how they’re feeling and what they might need from the adults around them.

Knowing what a newborn is trying to communicate can be a steep learning curve, but when baby has reached this stage, parents and whānau are usually more aware of their baby’s cues.

Through watching and listening, parents develop a heightened sensitivity and understanding of their baby’s ‘language’ and what those cues are trying to tell them.

Needs and routines

Many of the early subtle cues have disappeared and babies are using more direct messages to try to get their needs met.

Established routines and rituals play a big part in meeting baby’s ongoing needs. Routines, especially around eating and sleeping, help to create a pattern of expectation and can be helpful in avoiding baby becoming irritable or overtired.

Rituals and relationships

Rituals with baby could be described as ‘how we are in relationship’. Rituals continue to strengthen the attachment between a baby and the adults who care for them.

For example, nappy-change routine can change a ‘job that must be done’ into a ritual for ‘relational connection’ — a time for baby and parent to share gazes, talk, smile and sing together.

A secure attachment relationship builds pathways in the brain that provide a model for healthy relationships throughout life.

Development and changing cues

As their development progresses, a baby’s cues will be reflecting that area of development.

For example, a burst in their gross motor (‘big muscle’) learning will see them wanting to reach, grasp and move. Whether it’s at nappy-changing time, bath time or kai time, and whether or not it’s appropriate or safe, a baby doesn’t seem to care. They’ve learned to stand, and stand they will – they won’t differentiate between standing up leaning against the couch and standing up in a soapy bathtub full of water.

At mealtimes they may not be interested in being fed anymore, but prefer to take the lead, and will try to take the spoon out of mum or dad’s hand and feed themselves.

They’ve also learned to crawl – and although it would help if they lay still to have their nappy changed, they would prefer to roll over and crawl away.

Distraction as a strategy

Parents will have to decide when it is okay for baby to lead or when they may need to intervene with some form of distraction in order to get the job done. Offering them something to hold, starting a favourite song or rhyme, or shaking a bit of baby powder into their palm may distract them long enough to deal with the nappy change.

Understanding helps coping

Understanding that these cues are signals that another stage of development has been reached can help parents cope, rather than misinterpreting the behaviours as baby becoming really ‘naughty’. There’s no such thing as a naughty baby.