Can you decode your baby's body language?

Baby kicks legs

Just because babies can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t have lots to say! Your baby started communicating with you even before she was born and continues to do so now using her body and cries. You can easily decode these early messages.


Newborns do this a lot but they’re not bored or tired – yawning is actually an autonomic action. You may also notice your baby sneezing quite a bit. She does this involuntarily too – not necessarily because she’s getting sick.

Sucking on her fingers

If it’s not around feeding time, young babies suck on their fingers or fists as a way to self-soothe, an important skill needed for sleep. Additionally, says occupational therapist and co-author of the Sense series of books, Meg Faure, your baby does this as an exploration of the haptic sense – starting to recognise objects through touch.


Babies don’t cry to be naughty. Crying is an important communication tool for your little one and you’ll soon learn to interpret one of the seven types of cries that are generally recognised: pain, discomfort, hunger, loneliness, overstimulation, boredom or frustration.


Smiling is unique to humans and comes naturally when babies recognise a familiar face. Around 6 weeks your baby is starting to learn to experience emotion, and a smile on her face means that she’s happy. Smiling also brings a double reward when it’s returned as smiling is a baby’s first lesson in socialising.

Pulling a tongue

“The tongue thrust is a primitive reflex that goes away around four to six months,” says Meg. Babies who are fed solids early may also exhibit this reflex – they’re doing this because of the new experience solids brings. Toddlers usually stick their tongues out when they are engrossed in a certain activity or play.

Kicking her legs

Babies kick their blankets off when they’re too hot. Unfortunately babies can’t pull their blankets back up again – this is when crying comes in useful.

Babies also kick for the fun of kicking, especially in the bath. She’s saying, “This is fun; I want to do it some more!” and it’s good exercise, even though she splashes everything in sight too.

Older babies enjoy kicking against the resistance of a willing lap. This teaches them to use their legs and to stand. Don’t worry, your baby won’t get bandy-legged from doing this. It also helps to strengthen her hips, knees and ankles. When she’s tired, your baby will simply sit down again.

If your baby is rapidly kicking her legs though, she’s telling you she’s overstimulated and needs you to calm her environment down for her – take her toys away, put any music or TV off and dim the lights. Meg calls this the active alert state.

Scrunching her knees

Parents often interpret a baby scrunching her knees up toward her chest as tummy cramps. But when babies cry, they cry with their whole body, so it’s important to interpret the cry and not the action. Babies can comfortably pull their knees up to their chests back into the foetal position six months after birth.

Read more  Pushya Nakshatra - The Most Sacred Constellation

Clenched fists

Your baby is not angry when she clenches her fists – it’s simply another reflex that she’s born with. This reflex is said to be a remnant of our ancestry when babies clung to their mother’s fur – evolution in action. The reflex should disappear in the first few months, so if it doesn’t be sure to get it checked out.

Arching her back

Younger babies tell you they want to be left alone when they stiffen in your arms – especially if you hold them for too long. When older babies arch their backs, it’s a sign of utter frustration. Your baby is showing you that she does not want to do what you are trying to make her do, especially when it comes to eating. This usually happens towards the end of the first year. 

Grabbing her ears

Very young babies who still have a strong grasping reflex can randomly grab their ears and pull them. Meg says that this is another signal of overstimulation, and that by doing this your baby is trying to self-regulate. Older babies who are ill and miserable may pull on sore ears, showing mom where it’s hurting.

Rubbing her eyes

Just as you do, your baby rubs her eyes when she’s tired. This gives the little glands just above the eyes the chance to lubricate the surface of the eye. If eye-rubbing is caused by dirt, a natural bactericide in tears helps to prevent an infection. Tears, which are often caused by eye-rubbing, also contain the body’s excess of stress chemicals so its nature’s way of helping to calm your baby – especially when you respond with your comforting arms.

Banging her head

Movement and rocking is an essential part of comforting that mothers do naturally. Providing that a baby’s needs are met, she is programmed to self-soothe by sucking. But when a baby’s needs are not met, she may become insecure and resort to rocking herself. A troubled baby may lead to head banging in toddlers – body language that should not be taken lightly and should be seen by a paed.

Are there any strange or ususual things your baby is doing? Tell us by commenting below or emailing [email protected].

Read more:

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive Parent24 stories directly to your inbox.

— Update: 30-04-2023 — found an additional article Why Babies Kick Their Legs So Much from the website for the keyword baby kicks legs.

The products mentioned on this page were independently selected by Babycious editors. As an Amazon Associate, Babycious may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Baby kicks legs

One of the most striking and adorable behaviors babies exhibit generally around three to four months old is kicking their legs, but it can drive you crazy to see (and hear) your little one get into the habit of throwing their legs straight into the air and slamming them down repeatedly. This behavior is not uncommon especially when babies are almost asleep or when they are excited. So why do babies kick their legs so much?

Read more  Raised Skin Bump: 25 Causes, Photos, and Treatments

Leg kicking, especially when your baby is trying to fall asleep, is a self-soothing technique, and it is not uncommon for babies around four months old to get into the habit of kicking their legs, also known as “whale kicking”! It is also a way for babies to express themselves and communicate their excitement, need for attention, or discomfort usually related to gas issues.

Generally, if your baby is happy and kicking, it probably just means that you have an active baby with lots of energy in those legs. My daughter went through a phase of whale kicking at four months old where she would hold her legs up and slam them down on repeat all day. We called it her pro-wrestling signature move. She used to kick her legs so much that I would put her down in one direction in her crib just to find her in the completely opposite direction minutes later. If this is your case too, keep reading until the end for my best tips to deal with this wild and funny phase. But first, let’s explore the reasons behind this behavior and what it means for your baby’s development.

5 Reasons Why Babies Kick Their Legs so Much

Leg kicking or whale kicking can have different explanations depending on the particular situation your baby is in when they kick their legs. Here are 5 main reasons why babies kick their legs so much around the age of four months old:

Reason #1: A self-soothing technique

Leg kicking can usually be interpreted as a self-soothing technique commonly seen in babies around three to four months old. It is a way for them to relax and let go of their energy as part of their bedtime routine.

Kicking their legs may help your baby release their energy and tension before sleeping, and it is also a way for them to regulate their emotions through physical activity.

Reason #2: Exploring their surroundings

Leg kicking can also be a way for babies to explore the world around them. As babies start to become more mobile, they use their legs as a way to take in information from their environment such as textures, shapes, sizes, and even sounds. Kicking a toy with their legs, and making it move or make a sound, can be so fascinating for your baby.

This type of interaction helps babies develop their cognitive and sensory skills and can be very stimulating for them.

Reason #3: A part of their physical development

Kicking is also part of muscle development and strengthening, as babies are trying to strengthen the muscles in their legs and develop their balance and coordination in preparation for crawling or walking.

As your baby kicks their legs, they learn how to control and coordinate their movements and get a better grasp of what their body is capable of doing. 

Reason #4: Communicating excitement

Leg kicking can also indicate that your baby is in need of attention and want to be picked up or comforted, or; they may be trying to pull themselves up, which can lead to them kicking their legs out of excitement.

Read more  The Best & Worst Times to Visit Utah in 2023

If your baby is kicking their legs during playtime or when they are excited, chances are they are trying to communicate their joy with you.

Reason #5: Gas discomfort

Sometimes leg kicking can be related to gas or digestive discomfort, as babies try to kick or move their legs in order to get trapped gas out of their bodies.

If your baby is upset when they are kicking their legs, they might be trying to move a gas bubble or they may be feeling some discomfort.

Pro-Tips to Deal with the Whale Kicking Phase

Having been through this wild and funny phase of whale kicking with my daughter, I have learned a few tricks on how to deal with it. Here are my best tips:

  • Try the Rugby Hold. If you are breastfeeding (but also if you are bottle feeding or just holding your pro-wrestler baby), try the “Rugby Hold” (also known as the “clutch”). Instead of holding your baby on your lap, position your baby on a pillow along your side and support your baby’s head with the palm of your hand. This breastfeeding position was a lifesaver when my daughter got into the habit of kicking her legs so much even during feedings and I would receive the occasional kick right on my c-section scar.
  • Teaching your baby empathy. If your baby kicks you (or other people) with their legs, it’s not too early to teach them that it hurts. Saying “Ouch, that hurt me” and making a sad face will help teach your baby empathy and that it is not appropriate to hurt other people.
  • Use a sleep sack. If your baby is mostly kicking their legs when you put them down to sleep, I highly recommend Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. It will help your baby feel contained and more secure which might get them to relax and fall asleep without kicking their legs as much.
  • Make sure your baby is getting enough physical activity during the day. If your little one is an energetic kicker, providing them with a Kick and Play Piano will keep your baby engaged while kicking the keys and making all sorts of sounds. Another great toy you can give your active baby is a jumperoo to spin and bounce safely in.

Bottom Line

Babies kick their legs for a variety of reasons, from emotional regulation to physical development, to sensory stimulation and communication. Kicking is a natural and important part of a baby’s development. And you can assist your baby in this whale-kicking phase by providing them with the right environment, toys, and physical activities to channel their energy.

I hope that understanding the reasons behind this behavior will help you be more tuned to your baby’s growth and development. If you have additional tips to deal with this phase, please share them with us in the comment section below!

The purpose of this article is informative and educational only. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babycious may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content.