Understanding your baby’s moods

Your baby goes through six emotional states every 24 hours and once you can spot them you’ll know just how to respond. Baby expert Megan Faure shows you how to talk baby

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  • “Talk to me mum”

    Baby mood 1: the calm-alert state

    How’s your baby acting?

    Your baby is focused and really enjoys interacting with you. He’s attentive, expressive, isn’t moving about much, and is focused on a specific type of stimulation, such as gazing at your face. A baby in this mood is in the best place for responding to his world and learning from his experiences.

    “I always know when my daughter, is content,” says Leanne McLoughlin, from Lancashire, mum to Alex, 4, and Ellissia, 5 months. “She just sits back, smiles and follows me around the room with her eyes.”

    How should you react?

    Use a variety of different sensory activities. Start by lying your baby under a play gym. This strengthens connections in his brain for developing hand-to-eye coordination and building the muscles inside and around his eyes. Then, read to him, which works on the language area of his brain. If your baby’s less than 3 months old stimulate one sense at a time, then combine them when he’s older.

  • “I’m ready to drop off”

    Baby mood 2: the drowsy state

    How’s your baby acting?

    Drowsiness comes just before sleep, or when your baby wakes up. Her eyes look heavy and she’ll look into the distance with that thousand-yard stare – not focusing on much at all.

    Jenny McIntosh, 27, from London, knows when 7-month-old Mia is drowsy and ready for a nap: “She stops being satisfied with playing on her own and isn’t interested when I try to play games with her or read to her. She also starts to rub her eyes and puts her thumb in and out of her mouth.”

    How should you react?

    If your baby’s in a routine you’ll know roughly when she’ll be tired, but now’s the time to use calming activity. Before bedtime, help your baby shift into the drowsy state, perfect for sleep, by giving her the evening feed in a darkened room and gently swaying her so that her sense of movement calms her down.

  • “I’m dreaming mum”

    Baby mood 3: light sleep

    How’s your baby acting?

    While in the light-sleep state, your baby will twitch, smile, and you’ll see his eyes fluttering under the lids – this is known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During REM sleep, your baby’s dreaming, processing all he’s learnt during the day. It’s thought that this is the time when babies make memories and reinforce the brainpower needed for certain skills.

    In this state, your little one is easily woken up and as he falls deeper into sleep, he often experiences a sudden jerk of his muscles, called a startle, which may wake him up.

    How should you react?

    There’s not much you can do when your baby’s in this state other than take a welcome break. If your baby wakes within 15 minutes of going down it may be this jerk that’s waking him. This is common for newborns and can be fixed by swaddling.

  • “Do not disturb”

    Baby mood 4: deep sleep

    How’s your baby acting?

    After a period of light sleep, your baby sinks into a deeper snooze called non-REM sleep. Your little one is still, with no fluttering eyes under the lids, and hard to wake. This stage is vital, as it’s the time hormones are released helping your baby to develop and grow.

    In this stage it’s thought your baby gets rid of any unnecessary information. This is known as pruning. To understand how it works, follow this example. If you’re on holiday abroad, say in Spain, and your baby hears Spanish spoken for a few days in a row, she’ll begin to lay down the language connections for learning Spanish. If this experience isn’t reinforced regularly, once you leave Spain, the connections aren’t useful and are therefore pruned while she’s in deep sleep. This helps prevent her brain becoming a muddle of information and avoids over-stimulation.

    How should you react?

    It’s important to give your baby the opportunity to have a solid stretch of deep sleep, as without it she doesn’t get to recharge her brain properly.

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  • “It’s all too much mum”

    Baby mood 5: Crying

    How’s your baby acting?

    When your baby starts up with the wailing, he’s telling you in clear terms that he’s had enough. In this state he feels highly agitated, disorganised and overwhelmed by emotion.

    How should you react?

    You’ll need to soothe him using his senses to help him regulate his state and calm down. Once you’ve ruled out the basic causes of crying – he’s hungry, overtired, uncomfortable or needs a change of nappy – you’ll know that over-stimulation is the reason for his distress.

    Help your baby to shift down a state by using calming activities, such as rocking him, wearing him in a sling, or giving him a dummy or your finger to suck on, especially if he’s too upset to soothe himself.

  • “I’d like a change of scene”

    Baby mood 6: active-alert

    How’s your baby acting?

    In this state your baby will kick and move her body excitedly and very vigorously. She’s at risk of sensory overload though, as it’s hard for her to learn because she’s receiving too much information from her busy moving muscles. This can interfere with her learning by distracting her.

    How should you react?

    If your baby’s been stimulated for a while she’ll become fractious. If she’s not uncomfortable or hungry, try targeting a new sense, for example if she’s been watching a play gym (stimulating her visual sense) and gets restless, try moving her somewhere else and playing her music (stimulating her hearing). When it’s time for her sleep, calm her down with soothing strategies

  • How to stimulate your baby

    For slow to warm-up babies:

    This baby requires your attention to stay happy in the calm-alert state, as he has quite a short period of being in it and takes time to settle into a new activity.

    For settled babies:

    This baby spends more time in the calm-alert zone than other babies and remains settled even when he gets a lot of stimulation. When he’s had enough he’s more likely to go into a drowsy state and fall asleep than to start crying so look out for his signals to tell you how he’s coping.

    For sensitive babies:

    This baby will spend very limited time in the calm-alert zone, so he needs to be soothed a lot to prevent him from crying.

    For social babies:

    Even very social of babies may become overwhelmed after a time. So when your little social butterfly begins to niggle, try changing the type of stimulation you’re giving him, and if that doesn’t work, it may be sleep time.

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