How babies communicate

How babies communicate
Your baby wants to communicate with you! How do you read their cues?

Even though they can’t speak yet, babies can still communicate their needs in different ways. To understand what they’re trying to tell you, you need to pay attention to the cues they’re sending.

Types of cues

Your baby can send you different kinds of cues to let you know what they need or want. For example, they might do the following:

  • Cry in a specific way
  • Change their facial expression (e.g., pout their lips, furrow their eyebrows)
  • Seek or avoid eye contact
  • Make different gestures (e.g., raise or wave their hands)

It’s not always easy to understand what your baby is trying to tell you. But through trial and error, you’ll eventually learn to read their cues. Don’t get discouraged if it takes some time.

Here are some examples of things your baby might be trying to say:

  • Feed me
  • Soothe me
  • Hold me
  • I need affection
  • Touch me, tickle me, kiss me . . .
  • Make a different face
  • Sing to me
  • Talk to me
When baby is upset
If your baby seems to be in pain, sick, confused, sad, or scared, here’s what to do:
  • Comfort and reassure them by holding them, kissing them, and talking to them in a soft, calm voice.
  • Try to eliminate possible sources of discomfort—for example, make sure their diaper and clothes aren’t too tight and that they don’t have a rash or fever.
  • Don’t treat their feelings lightly.
  • Don’t blame yourself. As painful as it can be when nothing you do seems to calm your baby, sometimes it’s impossible to identify the cause of temporary distress.
  • Don’t hesitate to call Info-Santé (811) or consult a doctor if you’re concerned about your baby’s health.

For more information, see our fact sheet on babies’ cries.

Diaper changes are a great opportunity to interact with your baby.

How to enhance your interactions with your baby

Give your baby lots of attention as you attend to their daily needs. Here are some examples of what you can do:

  • When you’re feeding your baby, hold them in your arms, make sure they’re comfortable, and look them in the eye.
  • Interact with your baby as you change their diaper and dress them. Talk, sing, smile, say the names of their body parts and describe their clothes as you put them on, or play games like peekaboo.
  • At bedtime, sing a lullaby, read a short story, or rock your child to sleep.
  • At bath time, name the parts of their body as you gently wash and dry them.
Caring for and playing with your baby are great opportunities to spend quality time together and help foster your little one’s development. For ideas on how to play with your baby, see our fact sheet on playing with baby (in French).

Things to keep in mind

  • Your baby communicates with you in many ways long before they say their first words.
  • Learning to read the cues your baby sends is a matter of trial and error.
  • The many tasks you do to care for your child every day are opportunities for you and your baby to learn to communicate with each other.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Liane Comeau, Ph.D., early childhood scientific consultant
Translation and adaptation: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: October 2017