Reflexes as a universal language of babies

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Universal baby language

All over the world, babies speak a universal language during their first months. They talk enthusiastically, but do not yet let their language show through.. Whether they later speak a Semitic, Caucasian or Indo-European language, they do not yet let on.

But how do you interpret her body language?

Primary reflexes

Let’s take a closer look at these newborn human babies. The first thing you notice is their reflexes. More precisely: the search, suck, grab, step, moro and dive reflexes. At first glance, these reflexes have little to do with “language”.

But every baby is born with certain reflexes that help it with its basic needs. The aim is to stay alive physically and emotionally. So these reflexes are actually used as a means of communication.

Basic needs

What other body language do we see in babies? Hunger signals such as sticking out the tongue, bringing the hand to the mouth, etc. These are universal and moreover linked to the universal basic needs of a human baby, namely nutrition, closeness/security, sleep, warmth, responsiveness and lots of love.

Being loved gives a baby the feeling of being valuable without losing itself in it. It “occupies” its own place on the body of its caregiver, so to speak, where it can be completely (with) itself.


When these basic needs are met, you get a reflexive smile from a baby. When the needs are not met, a baby cries. This is another universal way of communicating. It is striking that when a baby is alone in its cot, both parents and medical professionals usually cite “hunger” as the first cause of this crying.

The very first thing we should think about is that a baby feels abandoned. Other causes can be: dirty nappies, too cold/hot, too busy environment, tired, shocked, pain, hunger, ….

Emotional regulation

Can a baby defuse this situation alone? Can he control this cortisol influx himself? No, on the contrary, a baby under six months has practically no opportunity to do so. Letting a baby cry has the effect of undermining its own fragile defence system.

How about that? The basic systems to process emotions are not present at birth: They develop for the most part postnatally (in the prefrontal cortex), mostly in the first two years of life with extensions up to five years. This means that a baby is totally dependent on us caregivers to regulate their emotions.

Furthermore, if a crying baby is left alone, it has a detrimental effect on the baby’s development. Not to mention the panic it causes a baby. The cortisol produced during crying does not find an outlet because the cortisol receptors in the hippocampus are still developing. In fact, this tsunami of cortisol becomes toxic to the developing brain when this crying stops without an adult nearby to regulate it, making it even more difficult to self-regulate in the long run.

Skin contact

Our skin is the universal basis for optimal growth. It is the only place where newborn human babies can optimally survive and develop over the last two million years. Doctor Nils Bergman is an authority on this matter.

There are countless studies that show indisputably that separation (parent – child) is harmful. He is also keen to use skin contact as a starting point and not see this as a treat.

Because a baby that is NOT skin to skin has lower blood sugar levels, suffers more from apnoea, cries more, is less able to maintain its temperature, etc.


The universal paradox is this: All human beings need a satisfying experience of dependency before they can become truly independent and self-regulating. The universal paradox is this: All human beings need a satisfying experience of dependency before they can become truly independent and self-regulating.

As universal as these basic needs e may be, in reality they are sometimes difficult to incorporate into the organisation of our (Western) society.

Parents need our help and guidance in this. Slings are an indispensable tool to promote contact between parents and child: Feeding, closeness and responsiveness follow naturally.

Understanding and acceptance

Of course, we must not lose sight of the parental ability. For some people, having babies with them all the time is not natural, so we have to look for a compromise that is viable for everyone involved.

But when we share our knowledge about this with parents, there is often more understanding and acceptance of the specific needs of a human baby. So it is up to us to translate this universal body language into an understandable and individual language for each and every family from Africa to America.

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