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Babies find it hard to say what they want. Parents can practise 'reading' the signs the baby gives.

Read the supporting information on 'Reading a baby’s cues (birth to 2 months)' for background information on this topic.

Picking up what baby is 'saying'

When parents can work out what baby is signalling with their sounds (often cries), their facial expressions and their body movements, the parents are better able to respond to baby’s needs.

Through this process, they’re starting to build the all-important attachment relationship between them and their new baby.

Ask the whānau:

  • What have you noticed baby doing to let you know what they need?

Acknowledge that it can be frustrating when what you think baby needs doesn’t seem to be working.

  • What do you do when you can’t seem to settle or comfort baby?

Thankfully, understanding what baby is trying to tell parents gets easier with more practice.

Crying usually happens if other signals haven’t worked.


Signs of hunger include:

  • smacking or licking their lips
  • sucking on whatever is handy
  • rooting round on the chest of whoever is holding them
  • having their arms crossed over their chest and hands curled into a fist (when a baby is full, arms become relaxed and fists uncurl)
  • crying
  • short, low-pitched cries.


Sometimes parents can mistake every sign from baby as hunger, but there are times when they’ve just had enough stimulation and need a break. Those signs might include:

  • looking away
  • faster breathing
  • hand behind head, hand to ear or hand in ‘stop’ position
  • back arching – as if baby is trying to get away
  • leg kicking
  • lips pressed together
  • crying
  • falling asleep.

Others signs might be saying, ‘Hey, notice me, I want to play!’ Parents wouldn’t want to miss those cues, so careful observation is important.

Wanting attention

Signs that baby may want to connect and interact include:

  • eyes open and interested
  • smiling, cooing and reach towards the person caring for them
  • hands uncurled and 'open'
  • eyebrows raised.

Have you noticed your baby doing any of these things?

A baby usually knows what they want – it’s getting that message across to others that can be hard for them.

How does this topic relate to Tākai resources?

Baby wall frieze – Whakarongo mai – listen to me

Six things children need – Te mahi pono — ngā hua me ngā hapa – consistency and consequences

Helpful resources for whānau