How you communicate with your newborn
Newborns like to be held and cuddled – it’s essential for healthy brain development. A good hug is worth a whole conversation and makes your baby feel loved and wanted. Your baby also loves being close to you. Skin-to-skin contact, or being carried in a baby pouch or sling, helps your baby feel connected and safe.
Babies also use their sight and hearing to interpret the world around them. To say, ‘I care about you’, you can:
- maintain eye contact until baby looks away
smile while you look at your baby
- use a warm, sing-song voice when speaking to him (this is called ‘parentese’).
All this helps your newborn feel content and protected.
At just a few days old, your baby can recognise your voice. She can also tell a soft, gentle tone from a harsh, angry one. But babies can’t change their behaviour until they’re much older, so any anger you direct at her will just be scary and confusing.
Right from the beginning, it’s important that babies have experiences and relationships that show them they’re valued, capable human beings who bring pleasure to others. Positive attention, reactions and responses from key grown-ups help children build a picture of how valued they are.
How your newborn communicates
Crying is the universal language of newborns. It’s their way of telling you what they need. Your baby will cry for your attention because of a soiled nappy, hunger, feeling uncomfortable, wind or a simple need for comfort. Sometimes – and in some cases, often – babies cry for no apparent reason.
Crying is your young baby’s main way of communicating. But it can sometimes be difficult – and frustrating – when you try to work out what it means. If you need help, see our illustrated guide to soothing a crying baby
Body language: what is your baby ‘saying’?
As well as crying, newborns communicate using their body and facial expressions. A baby will tense up if uncomfortable and fall into a comfortable shape in your arms when relaxed. Babies can even tell us when they’re tired if we learn to read their signals.
The following body language might give you clues to your newborn’s needs:
- Yawns, puts fists to eyes, drowsy eyes, sleepy blinks – ‘I’m sleepy’.
- Open mouth – ‘I’m hungry’.
- Wide-open eyes with alert body movements – ‘I’m ready to play and learn’.
- Head turned away or arched back – ‘No thanks’.
You can also find out more in our article on baby body language.
These physical signals reveal your newborn’s basic needs. You might want to slowly match your baby’s natural cycle with a routine of ‘feed, play, sleep’. This consistent routine is as comforting as a toddler’s teddy bear. It helps you both know what to expect during your day together.
Feelings and emotions
Babies are emotional beings right from birth. We know that babies respond to emotional expressions, like a big smile on your face, within the first few weeks of life. Many researchers now think that within three months babies can react to and express five basic emotions – joy, interest, anger, sadness and disgust.
How talking starts
As babies grow, they start to make more sounds and to smile and wave their arms and feet around. They’re getting the idea of conversation and want to tell you all sorts of interesting stuff. If you listen and respond to your baby’s murmurs, he’s likely to babble and gurgle with gusto before long. You can find out more in our article talking and playing.
Vision is one of a newborn’s major sources of information about the world. This means babies spend most of their awake-time trying to look at things.
At this age, the distance between a mother’s face and baby’s head during breastfeeding is the best distance for a baby to see things. Your baby might sometimes appear to be cross-eyed – this is because her eye muscles still need to strengthen.
Although images are still unclear, newborns can recognise faces, see facial expressions and recognise voices. In fact, young babies are interested in faces and voices and will look towards them from birth. Movement and bright contrasts are easiest to see.
As weeks go by, babies gain more control over their facial expressions. Watching you smile while talking, and observing your facial expressions, will help your baby learn how to do the same to communicate.
Bonding with your newborn
Bonding (also called ‘attachment’) is when babies form long-lasting emotional ties with a special person in their world (usually mum or dad). Secure attachment develops in response to consistent and sensitive love and care in the first months of your baby’s life. It gives your baby an important start to healthy social, emotional and cognitive development, building the foundation for a sense of security, safety and good coping skills.
For parents, that ‘bonding’ feeling can hit as soon as they see their baby for the first time. For others, it can take some time – months or even years.
Sometimes postnatal depression can interfere with your emotional connection to your newborn, whether you’re the mum or dad. It’s important to tell someone if you’re feeling depressed, and seek help as soon as possible.
In the few cases where a parent never feels that special bond, parents can still provide a healthy, structured and caring environment to help their child grow into a well-adjusted adult.
Obstacles to being positive
There are days when being positive with your child can be really tough – smiling, paying attention, or just making eye contact can seem like hard work. Work-related stress, life’s stresses and responsibilities and your grown-up relationships can make it hard. Spotting these obstacles can sometimes be the first step to overcoming them.
Scientific research shows that infants who are securely attached – or bonded – to that someone special have better social and cognitive skills when they get older. They are more curious, confident, cooperative and self-reliant than others who are not. All babies will attach securely if their parents are consistent in tending to their baby’s physical and emotional needs.
Hear parents’ stories about bonding in this short video.
Children’s impact on your relationship
This video highlights the ups and downs in parents' relationships that come with raising children. Australian parents talk about common problems and tensions. They also share ways to strengthen and build a relationship after children. In particular, they say that patience and open communication can help you reduce conflict and support each other.