If you listen close enough, you'll realize that your baby is telling you everything you need to know. Whether it has to do with hunger, a dirty diaper, or how tired they are, babies don't need a vast vocabulary to convey exactly what they need. Instead, they're born equipped with natural communication signals, albeit of the non-verbal variety. That's why it's important to be on the look out for these signals, so you can recognize the times you should listen to your baby indicating "no."
Both of my kids indicated a wide variety of wants and need when they were babies. My daughter was quick to shake her head "no" to just about any and everything, whereas my son would saved his resistance for more "important" matters, like when he was offered water when he wanted, and insisted on, milk. It's hard to know what your baby wants sometimes, especially when you're a new mom learning their different cries. And I'd argue it's even harder when you know what your baby wants, but can't give it to them.
Babies indicating they don't want something shouldn't go ignored, no matter how dismissible you think their want may be. Their persistence could indicate something more serious, although it shouldn't take something serious for us to pay attention to our children. Yes, even when they're at their youngest ages. It's important to respect their feelings and try to understand the intent behind their actions. If you have a baby indicating "no," or gesturing a general refusal, here are some of the times you might want to pay closer attention:
When You're Trying To Feed Them
If your baby is indicating he or she no longer wants the bottle, breast, or whatever it is, it's probably time to take it away. Maybe they're full, not hungry, or have a stomachache. According to WebMD, babies refuse food for a variety of reasons, including: being full, tired, distracted, or sick. WebMD goes on to say that new parents shouldn't worry if their baby refuses a feeding session. If a baby is hungry, they'll eat. So if your newborn is swatting at the battle, turning away, or clamping their mouth shut, they're trying to tell you they've had enough.
When my daughter closed in on the end of her first year, she went as far as to push the bottle away completely. They're not doing it just to mess with you, so pay attention.
When Something May Have Frightened Them
Growing up is hard. There's a lot of new, scary things that your baby might not want to look at or be around. Both of my kids were frightened of loud, deep voices when they were babies, so if they indicated they didn't want to be around whoever was speaking by shifting away, shaking their heads, crying, or having a look of all-out fear. That's when I stepped in and either soothed my babies, to took them away from whatever was scaring them.
Parenting says babies can be scared by an unexpected noise, a stranger, and even an angry tone of voice. Those experiences can also result in nightmares, so it's important you notice when your baby is afraid and change their environment.
When They Don't Want Touched
According to Scientific American, physical contact with your infant is a vital part of early childhood development. That doesn't mean your baby always wants to be touched, or will put up with being held by anyone. If your baby is signaling they don't want you to hold them, or if a particular part of their body makes them flinch, it's time to investigate. Usually, this signal will be crying. Parents goes so far as to highlight how to deal with strangers, friends, or family members who want to touch and/or hold your baby, by simply blaming the baby's impending meltdown. "She'll have an absolute meltdown if anyone she doesn't know touches her," according to Parents, should do the trick.
My son used to wince mid-feedings, alerting me to his tummy troubles and how my hand on his belly was making them worse. He ended up having severe acid reflux issues, and didn't know how else to tell me except by gently showing me his body hurt.
When They Refuse Affection
Babies are allowed to decide who holds and loves on them, and when. They might not want picked up if they're having fun doing tummy time. My daughter was this baby, who developed a sense of independence early on. If she was interrupted during a playtime she was having fun with, she'd let me know how wrong I was to move her by turning away from my kisses.
When You're Helping Them Learn Something New
Sometimes, babies just don't want you interfering with their learning process. They're naturally curious, and like to explore. That inherent curiosity allows them to learn and develop on their own, too. For example, Parents says babies learn fine motor skills between 12 and 18 months, and have another boost in fine motor skills between 18 and 24 months. So if you're noticing what Psychology Today refers to as "disengagement cues," i.e. signs your baby needs a break from you, like crawling away, crying, or falling asleep, it's time to back off. Psychology Today reports that fast breathing, a hand behind your baby's head, a hand to their ear, a kicked leg, or compressing their lips might be another sign that they want you to give them some space.
Whenever I'd try to help my daughter navigate a new skill, she'd almost always signal she didn't want my help. Without ever saying a word, I'd understand that she wanted to take the reigns to explore her new world all on her own.
When You're Leaving Them With Babysitters
Just because your baby can't actually say "don't go" or "no," doesn't mean they can't communicate distress. My youngest had separation anxiety and communicated his distress to me by fidgeting in a frenzied way. There are, of course, other signs your baby is stressed and/or in distress, including but not limited to: grasping your finger, a blanket, or their own hands, their back arching, arm or leg extension, grimacing, frowning, or crying, gagging, and looking away.
Whenever I had to go somewhere, leaving my youngest with relatives, I'd notice his intense fidgeting, which was his way of trying to tell me not to leave him behind. While I knew he was going to be safe and cared for, it still made it a point to pause long enough to re-evaluate the situation to see what else I could do to ease his fears.
When Something Hurts
If your baby is consistently indicating "no" when touched or held, there could be an underlying cause that shouldn't go ignored. With my son, as previously mentioned, his digestive track couldn't process his food, but he couldn't tell me how much it hurt, either. If I'd ignored his obvious, nonverbal discomfort, he'd probably still have those same problems today.
The bottom line? Listen to what your baby is telling you — even if they can't speak yet.
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