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Babies are born to be social, and they want to interact with people. There are many cues your baby will give you to express how they are feeling, what they are thinking or what they may need. By paying attention and responding, you can strengthen the bond between you both, and contribute to
your baby's emotional wellbeing. You will also be teaching your baby how to interact with other people.
Babies 'talk' to their families all the time. Sometimes they use their voice, but they can also use their face, arms and legs.
Parents already know that their babies cry when they're unhappy or in pain. But your baby can also tell you when they're happy, ready to play or finished playing, and it's important to encourage them to do this. Babies can use big sounds, but they also use lots of little sounds that sound a
little bit like they're coming from the back of their throat. They might make some shapes with their mouth, but no sound at all. They're still trying to 'tell' you things, so show them you're listening by answering them with your voice or interested facial expressions.
Long before the sounds come and smiling begins, babies change their facial expressions to tell you what they're thinking.
Babies communicate through their movements, too.
By watching and responding to these little cues, your baby learns that you are listening to them, and they don't have to use bigger cues, such as crying, to get your attention.
When you think your baby might be ready for interacting (playing and talking), ask them a question (e.g. "Have you got a story for me today?") and wait for some kind of answer. Your baby's answer might take a little while to come, so be patient.
There are many ways to interact and play with your baby. For example:
Babies enjoy patterns, and because nursery rhymes and songs are predictable, they encourage your baby to pay attention.
You can sing (or hum if you prefer) any favourite song that pops into your head, or one of the classic nursery rhymes (e.g. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Rock A-Bye Baby). Babies often enjoy interactive rhymes such as Round and Round the Garden or This Little Piggy Went to Market.
When your baby 'talks' to you, watch their facial expression, how they move and listen to their voice. If any of these change, your baby might be getting tired. Just stop what you're doing and provide some comforting sounds or touch. Your baby might recover
and be ready to interact again.
If your baby does not recover, then they are telling you they need to rest. Use a calm voice and patting or gentle stroking to help them settle down to sleep or to have some quiet time.
Sometimes, newborn babies have a medical condition that requires a lengthy stay in hospital. When this happens, interaction between you and your baby is very important for your baby's physical and psychological recovery. Mental health can deteriorate in babies who have been in hospital for
extended periods and who haven't had much contact with their parents.
Hospital staff are aware of the importance of this interaction. If you are in doubt about what you can or can't do with your baby, ask one of the nurses or doctors.
How do I know if my baby is overstimulated?
Overstimulation happens when your baby is overwhelmed by more noise, activity and sensations than they can handle. Your baby may show signs of being cranky or tired, cry more, move in a jerky way or clench their fists. If your baby is overstimulated, they need quiet time and a familiar,
How do I know if my baby is responding to me properly? She
doesn't seem to interact as much as other babies.
Babies develop at different rates, so don't worry if your baby doesn't seem to be doing what other people's babies seem to be doing. If you have any concerns, talk to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Music Therapy and Infant Mental Health teams. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed August 2018.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit
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