Babies Communicate! The Importance of the “Stop Hand”


Sweet baby Captain telling me very clearly that I was being too loud.

When my husband and I discovered we were pregnant back in 2007, we were thrilled and appropriately nervous.  How could two people who had been living alone in a remote cabin in the forest, miles from town or other people, who had absolutely NO experience with kids, have a baby and raise it together in a healthy, happy and safe way? We had the most basic components: love, healthy relationships and excitement to welcome a new life into our family, but there were so many things to learn!  I would like to share one of the things that was very clear, easy to respond to, and helped us tremendously to listen to our baby, before she was able to use words, or other gestures, to tell us what was going on.  We called it the “stop hand”.

I spent a lot of my pregnancy in the mountains, without a lot of interaction with other people, while my husband was working during the days.  I was not alone however!  I was in the good company of 4 dogs, 2 cats, a load of chickens, and 2 beautiful geese named Ping and Vail.  The male goose, Ping, was my constant companion, as I sat in camp chairs outside reading.  He would honk at my big tummy and try to get my attention as I poured through birth and baby books.  Someone had given me a copy of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child by Katie Allison Granju, Betsy Kennedy and William Sears, for which I will always be grateful.  The ideas presented really rang true for me, and just seemed like the right thing to do.  Co-sleeping, baby wearing, breastfeeding and elimination communication, among other things, were not hard practices to want to do.  Every parent makes different choices and these were just ones that struck an instant chord for us.  I plan to share our personal experience in elimination communication, and other natural parenting choices we made, at a different time.

Listening to our baby’s cues and doing our best in general helped us through a far from ideal birth experience, both mine and my husband’s postpartum depression, and endless sleepless nights.  What I want to focus on in this post is a specific cue that our daughter gave us as a baby, without words, to communicate that something was bothering her, before she started to fuss and cry.  It was the “stop hand”.  As you can see in the photo, Captain had her hand, palm out, open and nestled against her cheek. She was telling us “please stop”.  She would do this while awake, or asleep, to tell us if a noise was too loud, a movement or environment was making her uncomfortable, she didn’t want to be touched a certain way, or if she generally just wanted something to stop.  If we acknowledged this cue and stopped whatever it was that she didn’t like immediately, she was fine and would continue to sleep or go about her baby business.  If not, she would crinkle up like a piece of pink tissue paper and cry.

My husband and I started noticing the “stop hand” being used by other babies on our trips to town.  Once, we were picking up Grandma from the airport and saw a family with a tiny, brand new baby in a car seat carrier. The baby’s parents were hugging the grandparents, and we could see how hard it was for them all to say goodbye. The baby started to fuss in his sleep.  His mom suddenly reached for the straps and quickly lifted his still sleeping body from the carrier to hold him up to everyone for one last look. The stop hand immediately shot to his little cheek and stayed there for quite a while, as though trying to ward off the ooohs and ahhhs, before he crinkled up and wailed in misery.  I remember my husband whispering to me, “Oh look at the stop hand over there!”  We weren’t judging the parents at all as they were sadly saying goodby to loved ones, but we noticed how clear it was that the baby did not want to be touched while sleeping peacefully.

One other time that comes to mind was when I was in a Costco one day. Costco, with its bright lights and warehouse shopping vibe, probably isn’t very comfy for a babe anyways, but I saw a mom talking with a friend and all the while she was pushing the tiny baby back and forth rhythmically in the stroller to “soothe” him.  Each time she pushed and pulled the stroller, she would stop it with her foot and it would go bump, whooosh, bump , whoosh….  The women were admiring the baby, who had a stop hand pressed to his cheek like a little shield. He was sleeping, but starting to wake and really wasn’t ready yet.  I heard his mom say, “I wonder why he always puts his hand on his face like that?” and, 30 seconds later he was screaming.  Again, no judgement here, it is just something we noticed!

The “stop hand” baby cue seems to be fairly common and it helped us soooo much with Captain to recognize it!  It is a wonderful thing to respond to some of the things that babies are “saying”.  Reading their cues helps keep them happier and feeling secure. I would love to hear more about the cues we can experience with babies from any parents who care to share.  I am happy to say that Captain is 5 now and healthy, happy and doing great.  It is funny that still, on occasion, we see the stop hand pop out while she is sleeping.  It just happened the other night when she fell asleep in the car and I picked her up to carry her into the house.  Ohhhh little stop hand! It just fills my heart with the love and tenderness that I have felt toward her for all these years to see that little hand on her cheek!

I wish gentle love to all babies out there, and health and happiness to the children they become.

Good thoughts, Karen

Categories: Positive Parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Babies Communicate! The Importance of the “Stop Hand”

  1. I too have noticed that movement from babies! I think it’s the coolest thing that they can communicate like that at such a young age!
    Our three month old has suddenly become startled by the slightest noise and will throw up his hands and we call it his ‘Holy hands’ move.

    • Thanks for writing! Captain did a “holy hands” move too, you’ve given it a cute name 🙂 It is pretty amazing how much babies have to say, and I’ll bet you are right in the midst of it now with a 3 month old!
      Good thoughts (and good sleep too!) to you,

  2. Miriam

    What a beautiful post. I never thought of it, but it makes sense. It’s sad to think of babies trying to give cues and people not noticing. I like the way you share your opinions in a non-judgmental way, that’s the way I feel too.

    • Thanks for writing Miriam. After seeing Captain last night with the stop hand, I started thinking about it and wanted to share. I am glad I didn’t sound judgmental too because I don’t feel that way!
      Take good care! Karen

  3. My oldest did the “stop hand” and my youngest the “holy moly hands” LOL we used to treat it like you did, that we must be doing something they didn’t like.

  4. Julie

    I have noticed my baby doing the stop hand before, but not sure if I responded appropriately… I’ll definitely take more notice now!! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  5. Great post. It’s making me think back and wonder how many other signs I failed to notice with my first child, but it’s something I will certainly enjoy spotting in the future.

  6. Oh, I do miss those baby-days…. Julie and wildandwisdom, I send many good thoughts to your and yours!

  7. I don’t remember noticing this with my daughter, but it makes so much sense! Note to self for next time… 🙂

  8. Priscilla Dunstan (tons of youtube videos if you search) discovered a primitive language newborns use with words like Neh and Meh. Once I watched the video, I realized my newbie was ‘talking” too! It’s a startling and brilliant thing to realize your newborn is communicating AND YOU ARE UNDERSTANDING IT!!!!

    • Shana,
      My goodness, than you for writing in about Pricilla Dunstan, I will be looking for her videos pronto! Our daughter used both Neh and Meh to communicate with us. We had trouble believing how clear she was being from about a month after she was born. She used those exact words to ask for me (Mom) and to nurse. We didn’t know about the primitive language being common, but recognized it immediately and responded to her needs. She was a very early talker, and I think that being understood so early on was a part of that too. I am so excited to look this up, thank you so much for telling me!!

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