Baby started making their needs and desires known long before they even started thinking about talking, just by variations in their cries, their facial expressions, and the movements of their body. Over the past few months, though, you’ve probably noticed their nonverbal communication start to get more refined, even as they move closer and closer to communicating in words, too.
This happens because Baby’s communication through body language starts out pretty one-sided, with you reading their instinctive cues. These cues may come partially because Baby has been observing you, and how the way you move and act communicates your mood, but mostly they’re just the instinctive physical responses to the way they feel, which you have learned to read. Motions like turning their head away when they are overwhelmed and needs a little break, or yawning and rubbing their eyes when they are tired only make sense.
Other motions Baby makes from very early on are a little harder to decipher for first-time parents. These include tugging on their ears not just if they are having ear pain, but also sometimes because their mouth, throat, or nasal passages are hurt, sick or irritated, or if they are having teething pain. Fidgeting or hair twirling as a sign of nerves or being overwhelmed make total sense the same way they do for fidgety, nervous adults.
Still other motions, like kicking their feet with joy or excitement, are easy to read alongside the expression on their face. If Baby is having gas pain, and draws their legs up to their chest in response, there’s a good chance that discomfort is going to be just as obvious in their face as it is in their movements.
What is changing as Baby gets older, though, is that eventually, this unspoken communication starts to get a lot less one-sided as they start to learn that you’ll respond to their motions, and then starts making them specifically to be responded to. They may kick out to make a noise to get your attention if they miss you, smile at you to get you to smile in response, or raise their arms to ask to be picked up. Even that infuriating thing where they catches your eye and deliberately drops something so you’ll lean over and pick it up again is their way of actively engaging you in a conversation without words.