Group Programme / Module 6 Reading babies' cues

Even very young babies are able to communicate to let us know what they need and want.  However, we may not immediately understand what they're trying to say.  It's up to us to learn their special language.  We call this 'reading babies' cues'.  These workshops will help us to learn how to understand how our babies are feeling, and what they need from us.


  • To recognise what babies are trying to communicate to us.
  • To be able to respond positively.


Begin the session with an appropriate settling in time — for example, karakia, gathering thoughts, waiata, simple hellos. 

This is an opportunity for people to share what’s going on for them, if they wish. 

Mix and match from the pūtea of workshops. Tailor the session and choose workshops that you think would work best for the group at this time.

Background information

Even very young babies can communicate to tell us what they need and want. However, we may not immediately understand what they’re trying to say. It’s up to us to learn their special language. We call this ‘reading babies’ cues’. 

These workshops will help us to learn how to understand how our babies are feeling, and what they need from us. 

  • A baby will have their own way of letting parents and whānau know when they need something.
  • It takes time, observation and patience to learn your baby’s ways of communicating their needs.
  • Babies communicate using their facial expression, body movements and sounds (usually cries).
  • Cries usually happen after other signals haven’t worked, so it’s worth learning about a baby’s early signs that they need something.

 Signs a baby may be hungry might be: 

  • smacking or licking their lips
  • sucking on whatever’s handy
  • rooting around on the chest of whoever is holding them
  • having their arms crossed over their chest and hands curled into a fist (when they’re full, their arms become relaxed and fists uncurl)
  • crying — short, low-pitched cries. 

Signs a baby may be ready to talk, sing or play (share time) with you may be: 

  • smiling, cooing and reaching towards you
  • eyes bright, open and looking interested — they may even have raised eyebrows
  • relaxed and open (un-fisted) hands. 

Signs a baby may just need a change or a break might be: 

  • looking away and not making eye contact
  • breathing faster
  • with a hand behind their head to their ear, or out in a ‘stop’ position
  • arching their back, as if they are trying to get away
  • kicking their legs
  • lips pressed together
  • crying
  • falling asleep. 

Sensory overload 

There are many new things in the environment for a young baby to deal with, especially after the comfort and protection of the womb. 

Babies need a certain amount of stimulation to experience and learn from their environment. However, it’s also important to be aware of ‘sensory overload’. This happens when there’s too much stimulation, or a type of stimulation that’s hard for baby to cope with. 

The signs that baby is experiencing sensory overload are similar to their signs that they need a break. If those are missed and not responded to, they may become more intensified. You might see more:

  • crying
  • withdrawing — turning away
  • irritability, and difficulty consoling or comforting them
  • tensing or arching of their body
  • shutting down, ignoring what’s going on, or falling asleep. 

Sensory overload causes baby anxiety, and they will try to avoid those stressful feelings. Too much stress, too often, can be harmful. Babies may cry excessively or withdraw from many interactions, sleep too much or suffer from digestive problems. 

In the SKIP Whakatipu booklet Te Pihinga 1, the ‘Whānau say’ sections emphasise that observing and learning what baby is trying communicate help whānau to keep things calm and soothing.


  • SKIP Whakatipu booklet Te Pihinga 1 

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