Decoding Baby's Expressions

Wish your little one would just tell you what the heck she wants? Turns out it's written all over her face.

01 of 09


baby expressions
Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: Zooming in on something with the eyes and lowering or raising her eyebrows; mouth slightly agape. May squeal, point, or move toward the thing she's focused on.

What to Do: While picking up a wire whisk might not be exciting to you, it can be like stumbling upon the Hope Diamond to your baby, so let her touch and play with an object, assuming it's safe. Encourage her interest in new experiences by describing what she sees as if you were a sportscaster giving a play-by-play. Say, "That's a whisk. It's silver. Hear the funny noise when I tap it on the floor?" Allowing your baby to explore can help boost brain development.

When babies start to gesture toward objects around 9 to 12 months, "it means they're eager for more info, a prime moment to help them learn about language," notes Jana Iverson, Ph.D., director of the Infant Communication Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. "Pointing and reaching is really saying, 'Hey, I want to know more about this!' " she notes.

02 of 09


baby crying
Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: Corners of the mouth turning down, both eyebrows arching up in the middle. If she's not crying, it's likely her chin is quivering.

What to Do: These distress signals show that your baby has probably had too much stimulation, and if you don't act fast, it could morph into a complete meltdown. Your first instinct might be to take your baby someplace quiet to calm her down, which can be helpful, but according to Parents advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of Happiest Baby on the Block, which includes a book and a DVD, unhappy infants require rhythmic stimulation to chill out. So, if the grandparents have been in your little girl's face all day, give her some space by letting her spend some time in her swing.

03 of 09


baby expressions
Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: Vying for your attention by yelling, crying, or even throwing a toy. She may also smile or laugh when you react.

What to Do: "It's a compliment when your baby signals that he wants your attention -- it shows that you've bonded," says Parents advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of Happiest Baby on the Block. As a baby's brain develops, her need for novelty increases. You'll probably notice this: At 12 weeks, your little one can spend hours looking at your face, but in a few months, she'll need lots of different things to hold her interest.

Engage your infant by playing your usual games in different ways. "When you're singing a song, change the rhythm, speed up toward the end, make up new words, or vary the tone of your voice," Dr. Karp says.

Just remember: You don't have to be your baby's only source of entertainment. "Infants need plenty of free time to explore on

the ground," says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the author of Mommy Calls. "From 4 months, they take an interest in objects around them. Some brightly colored blocks or even some Tupperware and a wooden spoon can do the trick!"

04 of 09


baby crying
Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: Red-faced crying, with eyes squinted shut. May push or bat your hand when you reach for her.

What to Do: Babies have simple emotions; their brain isn't developed enough for feelings like jealousy and shame. If she's acting mad and you're sure she's not sick or in pain, she's probably hungry or tired. Try giving her what you think she needs, whether it's a nap or a feeding. Further reassure her with a calming tone of voice, directs Parents advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of The Happiest Baby on the Block. Use simple, soothing expressions, like shushing, or one short, repeated phrase ("It's okay, it's okay") instead of grown-up reasoning ("Poor baby, you're hungry!"), which she can't understand.

05 of 09


baby expressions
Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: Eyes frozen open. Face and hands tremble. May be very still or cry out.

What to Do: It's difficult for babies to self-soothe when they're scared, because they may not recognize what's frightening them, says Dr. Holinger, author of What Babies Say Before They Can Talk. A car horn sounds like background noise to you because you know what it is, but to a baby, it can be terrifying. Cuddle her while speaking calmly about what's happening. She may not understand your words, but she'll grasp through your tone of voice that all is well.

06 of 09

Baby Sign Language: An Introduction

07 of 09


Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: Intense, urgent crying with a grunting sound that sounds like "rrrr." Scrunches face or tenses facial muscles. Squirms or brings legs up to his chest.

What to Do: Gently massaging your baby's abdomen or moving herlegs in a bicycle motion may help her release gas. You can also try holding her back against your chest, so she's leaning slightly forward onto your hand, which can reduce the pressure in her tummy, says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., coauthor of Baby 411. "Going for a drive can also do the trick," she adds; but if after half an hour your baby's cues grow more intense, call your doctor.

08 of 09


baby smiling
Alexandra Grableswki

The Signs: A big smile, with cheeks lifted up and wrinkles forming at the corners of the eyes. May wave or clap while babbling in a high pitch.

What to Do: Let the good times roll -- encouraging a baby's cheerfulness builds her self-confidence. It'll make her feel good to know her grin can get a positive reaction from you. To make the fun last when you're playing together, verbalize what your baby would say if she could speak ("It's funny when Mommy does this dance!"). At around 9 months, as your baby develops a grasp of object permanence (the idea that something still exists even if she can't see it), try playing peekaboo to really crack her up.

09 of 09

Psst: You're Being Watched Too!

baby sticking out tounge
Alexandra Grableswki

Infants study their parents' faces to learn about the world, so how you act can affect your baby's feelings. Here are some ways to make the most of it.

Lose the Shades: "Eye contact with you is one way that babies learn about their environment," says Parents advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of The Happiest Baby on the Block. "Wearing dark sunglasses is like putting on a mask."

Show a Brave Face: Before someone potentially scary enters the room, like the babysitter, act excited. Your baby wants to imitate you; mimicking your optimism may ward off her fear.

Name Your Faces: Sit in front of a mirror with your baby, making expressions for enjoyment and sadness while saying "Mommy's happy" and "Mommy's sad." "The sooner you label what feelings look like, the sooner your baby will understand them," says Paul Holinger, M.D.

Copyright &copy 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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