Victoria L. Vierling, O.T., M.Ed.
NICU Developmental Specialist
Infant Behavior and Communication Cues
All babies have special ways of letting their caregivers know what they want and need.
Knowing your baby’s behavior and ways of communicating will help you to care for him
or her in the best way.
Communication cues can be generally divided into 3 groups:
Engagement: Signs that your baby is
ready for interaction; this is a good time to
hold, talk to, feed and or play with your
Disengagement: Signs that your baby is
overwhelmed by stimulation, in need of your
help to make a change, experiencing
exhaustion, discomfort or even pain. They
may need to have a rest period from being
held, talked to, played with or fed. They may
need a short break, a longer rest or other
intervention to help them regain comfort.
Self regulation: Signs that your baby is
making efforts on his or her own to help
themselves be comfortable.
Cues can be easy to see or not so easy to recognize. Every baby has their own individual
ways of communicating. Being familiar with general cues and then recognizing and
responding to your baby’s special communications will help you care for your baby in
NICU and when you go home.
The following are pictures of infant communication signs and suggestions
for ways to interact with your baby.
Engagement Cues –This is a good time to play with, hold or feed
your baby. He or she feels comfortable and likes what you are doing.
Communications from babies born very
early are often read through the heart
and respiration monitors in the NICU.
The NICU staff will help you become
familiar with the monitors, and when
your baby is “reading well.”
Babies who are comfortable have a
look of calm restfulness. They have
pink skin tones. Tiny babies are
usually swaddled; all covered up. You
can watch their facial expressions and
feel their movements as you hol