Learn how to decode the facial expressions of your baby. For example, when babies pout, frown and furrow, they try to give you a subtle cue about how they are feeling.
A newborn baby will show you many cues to tell you how they are feeling. One of the most common ones is Crying. You might not know the exact cause of crying, but the main culprits are hunger, dirty diaper, tiredness, or uncomfortable.
Did you know that newborns also frown, pout, and furrow their brows involuntarily to give you cues about how they are feeling?
Yes, it’s adorable when babies pout in their sleep, furrows their brows, or frowns, and I am sure you have captured those facial expressions of your baby on camera.
So, when your baby gives that serious/annoyed furrowed brow look, have you thought about the reason behind their facial expression?
Their facial expressions are trying to give you cues about how they are feeling. These subtle cues are easy to know if they are hungry, sleepy, need a diaper change, or uncomfortable.
This article will focus on these early facial cues that help us understand what a baby is thinking.
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Decoding Baby’s Facial Expression and Emotions
New parents feel excited to see and hold their newborn for the first time. But, at the same time feel anxious to bond with their bundle of joy because newborns have a whole new different language that parents need to understand.
These non-verbal communication through facial expressions of infants are magical and worth capturing in your baby book.
Decoding those facial expressions will help you understand and read your baby’s cues to figure out what is going on with them.
Early research studies believe that emotions are learned through interaction with humans, but newer research studies suggest that some emotions are naturally present from birth.
Basic emotions like sadness, distress, happiness and interest can be felt and expressed by infants. An interesting thing is they use their eyes, lips, eyebrows to express their feelings. So, once you decode their facial expression, it will be easier for you to respond to them before their facial expression turns into inconsolable screaming.
Why do Babies Pout?
Babies’ pouts are often the most frustrating part of their behavior because, as a parent, you won’t understand why your baby is pouting until they start crying.
So, if you are wondering why do babies pout?
Newborns use their mouths to expresses themselves before they can use their hands and feet.
The research study published in 2019 had shown strong bilateral response over the central nervous system region when 6-days-old-infants were stimulated at the midline of the upper lips with electroencephalography (EEG). This study suggests that lips take center stage in an infant’s brain and are in control of their lips (1).
So, if your baby is pouting, it all comes down to a simple problem – their needs are not addressed yet. For instance, when you have been ignoring them for a long time (10 min!!), they are trying to get your attention.
Pouting is a bit like a baby’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m over here! I have a need! Please help me!”
Pouting is mostly a stage where you can address their need before they start crying. And it’s situation-based primarily.
So, if newborns just woke up from a nap, and you fed them, their pouting means time to change their diaper.
Or as simple as, if you have been busy with house chores and haven’t cuddled your baby, pouting in this situation means they need to be with you or are bored.
Pout can also be a sign of distress in babies. For example, if your baby is in pain (gas pain), overstimulated, or needs a break from their environment (sound and activity), they will scrunch up their eyes and frown or pout.
Why do Babies Make an ‘O’ Shape with their Mouth?
In addition to pouting to express their feelings, babies make an ‘O’ shape with their lips as an excitement or fascinations. Bright eyes with the infamous ‘O’ face are one of many things that you will have the pleasure to witness when they are little.
When babies are happily playing, they may pull their lips into an ‘O’ shape as they smile at you and widen their eyes. This is a way of showing you that they want to have a little fun and engage in a game of peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake.
Babies who are still very young may not do this with such a wide ‘O’ shape, but as they get older, they will! This is an excellent way for them to show you how much they enjoy your company. As they get older, babies also begin to wave their hands back and forth, clap, or make a few sounds.
I have seen my baby-making an ‘O’ shape with their mouth out of excitement. Babies also make an ‘O’ face when they are pooping or when they are staring at something. So, it’s up to the baby how they want to use their lips to express themselves.
So, the more you observe your baby, the more you learn about their expression and related situation.
Why do Babies Pout in their Sleep?
A Baby’s sleep cycle is different from than adult’s. They sleep for longer hours in short bursts and spend more time in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle (2).
REM sleep cycle is associated with dreaming. During REM stage, you will notice their breathing pattern becoming irregular, their eyeball moving behind eyelids, and overall, they look unsettled.
And during the deep sleep cycle, newborn sleep doesn’t move at all, and breathing is regular. In addition, because a baby’s sleep cycle is shorter than an adult’s, there are more opportunities for babies to pout or cry in their sleep when they are passing from one sleep cycle to another.
If your baby’s pout in their sleep is accompanied by their tongue sticking out, it may signify that they are hungry.
Why do Babies Furrow their Brows?
There are varied reasons why your baby’s brow furrowed. Here is what your baby is trying to tell you with that intense/annoyed look (worth capturing!).
Tummy trouble is the most common problem among newborns, and when babies furrow their brows and screaming in pain, it’s mostly gas pain. Until their digestive system matures, which takes around 3-4 months, your baby may show symptoms of gas pain. Tummy massage with rotating legs in a bicycle motion is one of the most effective techniques to relieve gas pain in babies.
Related read: Why Baby’s Gas Smells like Rotten Egg or Sulfur?
Furrowed brows are also a sign of baby pooping in their diaper. So, an intense look with furrowed brows means time for a diaper change, and while you are waiting for them to be done pooping, capture these expressions for your baby book.
Just like gas pain, teething pain can also cause the baby to furrow its brows. So, if they are drooling too much and putting everything in their mouth, it’s a sign that they are teething. Get them teething neckless that mom wears, so they can safely chew on it to relieve pressure on their gum while you are cuddling with them.
Intense, furrows brows and constant glare at some objects or human being means that your baby is trying to familiarize himself with yourself or an interesting object.
Babies furrow their brows when experiencing pain or frustration, but they also do it when they are unhappy or uncomfortable.
Babies can not handle too much noise and activity when exposed to it for a longer duration. So when they furrow their brows and wrinkle their forehead, it’s time to get them out of the noisy environment or place.
If non of the above situation applies as one of the reasons for your baby’s furrowed brows, they might want to sleep.
So, if your baby furrows their brows, and you want to decode the expression, observe their expression for a week and identify the situation.
Why do Babies Frown?
Anyone with a grumpy old baby? Mine was—all the time. Since birth, he has been frowning and furrowing his brows. It took him almost three months to return a smile. Except for few brief smiles in his sleep, he was a grumpy little man for the first few weeks of his life.
Other than angry face all the time, he was pretty content. He never cried without reason. So, if your baby frowns for no apparent reason, it is just because they haven’t yet learned how to smile. The baby starts smiling only after a couple of months.
And according to science, you need memory to smile – if you can not retrieve happy memories, you are unlikely to smile often.
A study published in 2014 suggest that a stable network of neurons is required to form a memory. And because new neurons are formed so frequently (neurogenesis) in infants, memories do not form. And as neurogenesis slows down and their neuron network stabilizes, babies often start smiling (3).
If yours is not a grumpy old baby like mine but frowns occasionally, it could mean something.
According to experts, baby’s frowning is a sign that they are bored and want to break from what they are currently doing. If you miss this sign, the baby may become agitated and difficult to settle.
Why do Babies Pout, Frown, and Furrow? Conclusion
If you are a new parent concerned about your baby’s pout, frown, and furrow, you can rest assured that your infant is trying to communicate with you.
Your job is to look and listen to your infant to learn how to interpret their facial expressions.
Your infant may not have the words to tell you how they feel, but they are trying to communicate their feelings to you.
How does your baby communicate with you? Do they have special facial expressions to get your attention? Leave your comment below.
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Meltzoff AN, Saby JN, Marshall PJ. Neural representations of the body in 60-day-old human infants. Dev Sci. 2019 Jan;22(1):e12698. doi: 10.1111/desc.12698. Epub 2018 Jun 25. PMID: 29938877.
Grigg-Damberger MM. The Visual Scoring of Sleep in Infants 0 to 2 Months of Age. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016 Mar;12(3):429-45. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.5600. PMID: 26951412; PMCID: PMC4773630.
Akers KG, Martinez-Canabal A, Restivo L, Yiu AP, De Cristofaro A, Hsiang HL, Wheeler AL, Guskjolen A, Niibori Y, Shoji H, Ohira K, Richards BA, Miyakawa T, Josselyn SA, Frankland PW. Hippocampal neurogenesis regulates forgetting during adulthood and infancy. Science. 2014 May 9;344(6184):598-602. doi: 10.1126/science.1248903. PMID: 24812394.
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