Behaviour & communication

Every baby has their own unique way of telling you if they are happy or not. By watching your baby’s body language you will learn to recognise when they feel happy and content, when they are tired and need to rest, and even what type of interaction your baby likes best.

By spending lots of time watching your baby, you will begin to learn about their temperament and personality, which helps with bonding and allows you to take on more of an active role as a parent.

Each baby will have their own way of showing how they feel. These are some of the signals your baby may use and what they may mean.

I am happy, relaxed and ready to interact:

  • My eyes are open and I seem alert.
  • I have a relaxed posture/muscle tone.
  • I have my hands by my face.
  • I move my mouth like I want to smile or coo.
  • I look at your face or an object without turning away.
  • I have steady breathing and heart rate.
  • I am a healthy colour.
  • My hands are clasped together.

I need a break from interacting or I am having trouble coping:

  • I am closing my eyes or looking away.
  • I am squirming or arching my body.
  • I startle.
  • I am flailing my arms and legs around or having sudden or jerky movements.
  • I have irregular breathing (faster or slower).
  • I am frowning or making grunting sounds.
  • I am crying. Babies on ventilators cry too and although you won’t hear me cry, you can tell by looking at my facial expressions.
  • My skin colour changes, e.g. dusky, mottled.
  • My mouth is wide open, as if exhausted.
  • I have limpness of arms, legs or body.
  • I am falling asleep or becoming drowsy.
  • I am fussing, grimacing, yawning, sneezing, coughing, choking or hiccoughing.

Premature babies can quickly become overwhelmed if they have too much stimulation. Here are a few ways in which you may be able to help them cope better, but be mindful that every baby is an individual so talk to your NICU nurse, occupational therapist or physiotherapist for further advice and guidance:

  • Comfort your baby with sustained, gentle touch (avoid light stroking, as it can irritate).
  • Cover their crib/cot and turn off the lights when possible, as lights may bother your baby.
  • If your baby likes to be in the curled-up position, you may be able to wrap or nest them.
  • Kangaroo cuddles (skin-to-skin contact) can be extremely beneficial as your baby can touch, smell and feel close to you.
  • Your baby may enjoy being on their tummy when they are monitored or awake.
  • Keep the noise levels to a minimum and respect your baby’s sleep periods.
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