How to read your baby’s body language, so that you can respond to his cues and meet his needs.

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Unlike adults, babies can’t use words and phrases to communicate how they feel. As a rule of thumb, children say their first word around their first birthday, notes Dr Yang Huilin, a senior speech therapist at Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre.


However, this does not mean that they aren’t trying to communicate with you. Your little one might not be able to speak, but he uses his body to tell you what he wants! Simple things like crying, turning his head away, or even stretching out his arms are bubba’s way of telling you that something is wrong, and he needs your attention.

So as parents, you should observe and discover your little bundle’s various quirks and habits. See how they respond to things on a daily basis, what they do when they are uncomfortable, or how they get your attention with they want some cuddles.


“Most baby actions can have more than one meaning, and sometimes have no meaning,” states Dr John Elliott, an associate professor in psychology at the National University of Singapore, who studies social and cognitive development in young children. So, it’ll take time to learn what your angel’s actions actually mean.


So that you get a headstart, scroll through the photo gallery to find learn how to decipher what these common baby actions mean!

Kicking legs

Your mini-dynamo moves his legs and kicks around to indicate his excitement. If he is smiling, he is probably enjoying himself and learning what he can do with his legs. But if he’s frowning, something might be bothering him. A 1-year-old could be kicking his legs to show excitement, or to show that he wants to play. In making such judgements about a child’s state, consider the circumstances. “If the baby was bitten on the leg by a mosquito, it’s possible that they might kick their legs to show discomfort. You can judge by their expression,” states Dr Setoh Pei Pei, a NTU assistant professor in psychology who has worked on various children development publications.
What to do? If he seems happy, play with him by gently moving his legs around in different ways. If he is fussing about, check for anything that could be irritating him, like his clothing tag or a scratchy blanket.

Pulling legs up to the stomach

This action might seem cute to you because your tyke resembles a little ball, or a hedgehog curling into itself. But this can actually mean a sign of stomach discomfort. Dr Setoh states that stomach discomfort may be accompanied by cries or other distress signals. Colic, gas and constipation may be reasons for this action.
What to do? Try to get rid of the gas by burping him after feeds. Constipation can also happen when babies are transitioning from breastmilk to formula, or from milk to solid foods. When this happens, check with your paediatrician as to what you can do to ease the discomfort.

Back arching

Arching his back while crying can be due to bubba feeling frustrated. This normally occurs when he has been crying for quite a while, but has not received any attention yet. “Young babies arch their backs to signal distress,” Dr Setoh explains. On the other hand, if you notice that bubba is always arching his back after feeding, it might be due to acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What to do? Put your baby in an upright position after feeding instead of lying him flat on his back as this will help with digestion and minimise reflux. If the problem persists, you might need to make a trip to the paediatrician.

Outstretched arms

If you see this action, it’s playtime! When babies stretch out their arms, it usually means that they are in a good mood, and are ready to play and explore the world. Or maybe your little champ just wants to be picked up and cuddled by you.
What to do? Make full use of this opportunity to play and bond with your mini-me, or bring him out for a stroll. As he is in a good mood, he will be responsive, as well as alert to his surroundings, which makes this the perfect time for him to observe and pick up new things.


From around 8 months, your child will be able to clap her hands. She is trying to show off her non-verbal communication skills, and tell you, “Look what I can do!”
What to do? Make eye contact and mirror her actions back at her to express your delight. This is also a good time to start showing your baby other “excited” gestures that she will be able to mimic, such as raising your arms in joy.

Locking eyes

Your newborn will lock her eyes onto yours around the 1- or 2-month mark, as her focus becomes clearer. This is her way of saying ‘I love you’, or act as a type of reassurance when she is frightened.
What to do? Make eye contact back, talk, sing and engage her. Your baby gets your message even if she doesn’t understand the words. And if she’s looking to you for reassurance after a sudden noise or movement, a good trick that soothes is to place your hand quite firmly on her tummy, so that she feels secure.

Looking away

If your little one suddenly turns away during a meal, or while you are playing with him, it can mean that he has lost interest or is over-stimulated and needs a break. Dr Setoh says, “He might be distracted by something else. If he needs time to process what is happening, he might look longer at the toy or food instead of looking away.”
What to do? You can try changing bubba’s toy to see if it attracts his attention. If not, let him rest and calm down for a while before you try to play with him again. This lets you rest as well, before your little monster demands your attention once more!

Covering or rubbing eyes

Observe your little sprout’s facial expression. If he starts rubbing his eyes and whining, it is most probably a signal for you to get him ready for a nap. However if he is smiling, it might mean that he is trying to play a game of peekaboo with you! Babies as young as 6 months can pick up this simple action, so don’t be shocked if you see him trying to initiate a game with you.
What to do? Bring your kiddo to the bedroom and try tucking him in. If he knocks out easily, it obviously means that he was just sleepy and wanted to rest. If he wants to play, continue to react with varying facial expressions and sounds!

Cooing contentedly

These cute sounds start at around the same time as his gurgling, indicating that he’s expressing pure happiness. It happens when he’s feeling happy and content.
What to do? Keep doing whatever you’re doing and coo back at her to show that you know she’s happy, then pause to let her babble back at you. Listening to her coo lets you understand what works best to calm your baby in the future when she’s upset.

Crying fretfully

Your newborn wails for various reasons, ranging from hunger to tiredness. When she is between 6 and 8 months, however, bawling when you disappear from her sight shows that she has separation anxiety.
What to do? Soothe your baby, but also show her that there is nothing to be worried about. Playing peekaboo can help her to understand that you’ll always return even when she can’t see you.