Why’s my baby doing that?Heather Turgeon
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Babies are fascinating creatures. In the first year, it seems that with every passing week, they boast impressive new skills, as well as entertaining, endearing, and sometimes brow-furrowing habits. Here are 10 common baby behaviors that you might notice as your infant grows, along with the explanations for why they decide to pop up when they do.
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1: Everything in the mouth
Babies put everything in their mouths — their hands, your sleeve, the arm of a wooden chair. Thats because the mouth is by far the most sensitive area of an infants body. In fact, the mouth is the first part of the body to perceive touch: embryos at just six weeks gestation can perceive touch on the lips. From birth, touch sensitivity grows from the top of the body, down (but even at age five, the mouth will still be the most sensitive). That means that for a baby, the best way to explore and learn about the world is to mouth it.
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2: The love of sweets
Kids dont have to learn to like sweets — its a naturally programmed preference that exists starting in the newborn days. It comes down to biology: sweet receptors in the mouth trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain. Thats why sucking on a sweetened pacifier calms a baby and may help block the perception of pain. The preference for sweets makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, since sweet foods in nature are usually safe and high in energy.
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3: Stranger anxiety
This is a major milestone! When your formerly easy-to-pass-around baby becomes wary of strangers, it may seem like a setback (and no doubt it can make your life harder), but its actually an important advance. Your baby is becoming socially aware and showing her attachment to familiar caretakers — that means that the sophisticated areas of her frontal cortex are coming online. Stranger anxiety is nearly universal and shows up at the same time through every culture around six months, peaking at 18 months for many babies. The intensity of stranger anxiety depends on a babys temperament.
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4: The catnap
The short nap is such a tease — it gives you just enough time to eat a snack, check email, or take a shower. But its a common development for babies, especially between three and eight months of age. Back in the day, when our parents put us down on our bellies, we slept for long stretches, but a lot of babies sleeping on their backs (where we put them these days for safety reasons) will wake up after coming into a light phase of sleep. Until they learn to soothe themselves back down again, many will take these 20 to 40 minute power naps and be ready to play again.
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5: Flying and flailing
Before babies crawl, if you put them on their bellies they often shoot their legs and arms out, superman-style, or kick around and push their bottoms in the air. To us, it can look random and spastic, but every time babies do this, theyre testing, learning, and getting feedback to strengthen and refine their nerves and muscles. Thats why its helpful to let them work on the ground without interfering — theres a lot of important work going on in all that floundering.
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6: Forever bouncing
The front pack, the swing, the jumper, or a stint on the yoga ball — we know these are all calming activities for a baby. Thats because they activate the vestibular sense (the sense of motion babies can feel beginning in the womb). Fetuses get nine months of non-stop bouncing while mom walks around during the day, so its no surprise that lying still on the floor or in the crib isnt always their preferred activity. But bouncing isnt just calming, its tied to the other senses and also stimulates cognitive development. In other words, we rock babies for their smarts, not just to keep them from crying.
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7: Deferred imitation
This is one of your babys hidden talents — the ability to imitate what you do days or even months later without any practice. If your nine month old sees you work with a toy but never lays hands on it herself, shell know exactly how to use it a day or more later. Just after their first birthday, a one-year-old can remember and repeat a sequence of actions a week later, without having any hands-on experience. Its proof that our little ones memories are strong, and theyre always watching and learning br> from us.
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Not all of your babys sounds are adorable coos. Her vocal tract develops a lot in the first year — allowing her to first produce the easy vowels and later the harder consonants. Around six months of age, a babys vocal tract is quite mature and has the ability to produce a lot of the sounds needed for language. Along the way, your little one will want to practice all forms of babble, noise, and yelps with her fast-developing, personal sound machine.
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9: The weight dip
Among breastfed babies, its pretty common for weight to creep down on the growth charts somewhere in the three-to-six-month age range. This is because the trajectory of weight gain is different on average for breastfed and formula-fed infants, with those drinking formula tending to gain a little more starting at three months. If your pediatrician is using the CDCs weight chart, your breastfed baby could look a little skinnier than her peers. The WHOs charts are more appropriate for breastfed babies.
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10: Extreme interest
Around eight months of age, your baby goes through a huge cognitive milestone. The frontal cortex — home to her powers of attention, impulse control, and emotional regulation — is becoming much more active. That means that along with her newfound emotional skills of clinging to you, seeking you out, and having a babbling conversation, shes also able to wait a bit and focus on a task in front of her. Let her watch you put a toy under a blanket or in a particular cup and see if she can remember where it is and find it a few seconds later. Sounds simple, but this is a highly complex feat of coordination and decision-making on her part.
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