Babies have three very clear moods that no one needs any experience to recognize: crying, smiling and sleeping. But without language, how do babies communicate the more subtle states and moods and needs they have?

Babies in fact have 6 states (Deep Sleep, Light Sleep, Drowsy, Calm Alert, Active Alert and Crying) and for each state is a set of signals that parents can recognize that will give clues as to their baby’s needs:

Calm-Alert State –In this state, your baby is calm and wants to engage and learn from their world. This is the time for stimulation, talking to your baby, massage or learning activities. In this state, your baby makes connections in his brain. It is a magic state that occurs for increasing lengths of time as your baby gets older and cope with more interaction.

The signals for this state:

  • Your baby makes eye contact and may smile
  • His limbs are still and movements are purposeful
  • Your baby turns his head towards sounds and seeks interaction

Active Alert State – As your baby engages with the world, he may become over stimulated and reach a threshold where he needs a break. This may mean that your baby needs a few moments to simply stare into space or needs a complete break and to have a sleep. By watching for these warning signals, you can ensure that your baby does not become over stimulated and fussy.

The signals for this state:

  • Your baby looses eye contact and may turn away from you or the activity
  • His arms and legs move rapidly and become too busy
  • He may tug at his ears and rub his eyes, indicating tiredness or irritation
  • If you continue to stimulate him he may start to fuss or withdraw

Crying – There are the obvious causes of crying, such as hunger, pain or illness but interestingly this accounts for relatively few periods of crying. Babies mainly cry when they are overtired and over stimulated. If you have missed your baby’s subtle warning signals, you may find he ends up crying and overtly showing his threshold for interaction has been crossed. This is the time to settle your baby to sleep or to give him a sensory break from the interactions with the world.