Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Our best wishes to all of our readers for a happy and restful 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Making the Most of Your Baby's New Holiday Toys

Over the last few weeks, we've celebrated several gift-giving holidays and babies all over the world have received new toys, blankets, clothes, books, and other gifts from well-intentioned friends and family. My children were babies more than 20 years ago and I am amazed how many toys today move, spin, flash, blink, and sparkle. Most of them seem to make endless electronic noises. Thank goodness for the on/off switch! Given that many parents are looking at shiny new toys on shelves and in boxes these days, we thought we would share some ideas on how to make the most of these gifts while interacting with your baby.

Eight Tips for Making the Most of New Toys
  1. Follow age recommendations. These days, toys are clearly marked by age group. The age groups are based on the typical abilities and behaviors of babies at each age. Even if you think that your baby is advanced (and we know you all do!), you might find that your baby becomes frustrated or bored with a toy if she doesn't have the skills needed to play with it.

  2. Check for hazards. Make sure that your baby's toys are not small enough to be a choking hazard and that they can't break apart into small dangerous pieces. Also, you'll want to check the Internet to make sure the toys have not been recalled for any reason.

  3. Let your baby use all of her senses. Remember that young babies learn best when they can use all of their senses. Babies are typically interested in toys made of bright primary colors but most babies want to do more with toys than just look at them. Even young babies will try to touch, smell, and taste the toys within their reach. Pick some safe toys and let your baby explore!
  4. Rotate those toys! Babies love variety in toys' size, shape, texture and color. They may be particularly fascinated by differences between objects. As your baby's interest fades, you might find that trading for a toy that is much larger or smaller, with a different color or texture, will hold your baby's interest longer. The bigger the difference between toys, the better. You don't need a lot of toys, just variety. Rotate the toys when your baby is still alert but seems to be bored. Don't overdo it or you may find that your baby is overstimulated. Watch for cues that your baby needs a break from playing.

  5. Baby's favorite toys don't have to be expensive. Many parents have spent money on the latest "must-have" toy only to find that the baby prefers the box the toy came in. Babies don't need fancy toys. Babies can be happy playing with a set of measuring cups. Just remember to vary the size, shape, color, and texture and your baby is likely to be happy to play with whatever you give to her. Remember, she's not impressed by labels or price tags!

  6. Talk to your baby about her new toys. Your baby loves to hear the sound of your voice and she is eager to learn about language and words. Tell your baby about the colors and shapes she sees and the sounds she hears. The more you talk about her toys in a happy sing-song voice, the more your baby will listen and learn.

  7. Encourage your baby to move. Any toy can be used to encourage your baby to be active. Newborns will try to follow toys by moving their eyes and bodies; older babies will reach, creep, crawl and eventually walk to get to toys. All babies need activity, even young babies need some time to play each day on their tummies with their hands and legs free to move.
  8. You are your baby's favorite toy! Babies love to be held and entertained by repetitive rhymes and games. Games like peek-a-boo and "where's your nose?" will keep your baby happy long after she's lost interest in her shiny and loud gifts. Your time and loving attention mean a lot more to your baby than the holiday packages. Most of all, new toys are far more exciting for your baby when you are nearby to share the fun.

What was your baby's favorite holiday toy?

Next time: We'll have another baby quiz!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from the UC Davis Human Lactation Center!

We wish all of you a wonderful, safe, and restful holiday. We'll be back next week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Polishing the Mirror: Simple Ways to Reflect the Best of Yourself for Your Baby

Last time, we talked about how babies watch their parents in order to learn more about the world around them. Babies use careful observation to learn as much as they can long before they are capable of asking questions or sitting in a schoolroom. Whenever babies are awake and alert, they are watching, learning, and experiencing everything that their senses can discover. That old cliche, that says "you are your child's first teacher" is true! Here are a few things to keep in mind as you guide your baby's early learning.

1. For most of the first year of your baby's life, you are completely in charge of his environment. You choose where he goes, what he sees, what he eats, where he sleeps, and who he is with. Choose wisely! Do your very best to make sure that your baby's environment is safe and interesting but not overwhelming. Don't worry about spending tons of money on fancy toys. Your baby would rather play with you than with anything you can buy.

2. Watch for signs that your baby is in a
quiet alert mood and when he is ready, show your baby the things you most want to share with him. Let him use as many senses as possible while you tell him about his world. For example, if you love the out of doors, use this time to take your baby outside to see, hear, and smell all the things you love about nature.

3. When your baby is in the room, don't let other people behave as if he is not there. Don't let anyone do or say things in front of your baby that you wouldn't want an older child to see or hear. It is easy to think that it doesn't matter what adults do around babies, but it does matter. Babies are "recording" others' words and actions long before they can talk or fully understand what is going on around them.

4. Learn your baby's cues and respond consistently to them. Babies learn quickly about "cause and effect" from the responses they get to their cues. By promptly responding to your baby's cues, you are teaching your baby that he can trust and communicate with you. Also, babies are most ready to learn when they are relaxed and comfortable.

5. Use routines to direct your baby's attention. Remember, babies feel safe and happy when they can predict what will happen to them. When you develop routines for bathtime, meal time, and naps, babies more readily learn your rules. We're not talking about "schedules" rigidly ruled by the clock, but routines - when you use the same series of words and actions. You can develop routines for learning time too! For example, if you notice that your baby is relaxed and alert, you can bring out a special blanket, smile, and ask "Are you ready to see something new?" before you get down on the floor and play with him. When your baby is old enough, this routine will bring squeals of glee.

6. Let your baby explore! Safe exploration is a powerful learning tool. Babies are driven to look, touch, taste, smell, and listen to everything in their environment. Make sure that your baby has an opportunity to move and experience (safe) things each day. Don't forget to watch for signs that your baby needs a break from all the activity. Remember, too much fun can be overwhelming!

Next time: More Holiday Wishes from UC Davis!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Hanukkah to all of our readers who are celebrating!

We hope that those of you who have been celebrating Hanukkah have had a chance to spend plenty of quality time with your friends, family, and of course, your babies! Best wishes to all of you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Two-way Mirror: How Parents Influence Babies' World View

Sometimes, being a parent can seem to be an overwhelming responsibility. After all, parents are expected to teach their children everything. How can that be possible when parents have so many other things to do? Mother Nature has it all figured out. Much of children’s early learning comes from paying close attention to the adults (and children) in their lives and copying what they see. Because babies have so much to learn, this type of learning happens all the time when babies are awake. Your baby is always watching, listening, and learning from you, not only at times when you are relaxed, focused, and ready to be a good role model.

A Wonderful Opportunity

To stay safe, children must learn the “rules” of the community they live in. They need to know what to eat and what not to eat, how to wash their hands, how to pet a dog, and thousands of other rules they will use as they grow older. Newborns start this process in the first moments of life by focusing their attention on the faces and voices around them. Very young babies will try to copy their parents' expressions. As they get older, babies are able to observe, copy, and understand more of what is going on around them. Babies are driven to learn. They instinctively study your words, your actions, and how you treat others. You’ll want to keep that in mind as you go through your busy day. When you go to the grocery store and name the fruits you put into your cart, say please and thank you, or hold someone’s place in line while they run and get an onion, you are teaching your baby about food, being polite, and kindness.

A Tremendous Responsibility

Unfortunately, babies don’t watch us only when we are on our best behavior. Babies watch everything we do, even when we yell at cars that cut us off, lose our tempers, or eat too much. Nearly all parents have noticed that their children develop some of their bad habits and we’ve all heard sweet little voices repeating words that children should never say. Children can learn from our flaws as easily as they learn from our strengths. While no one is perfect, it is important to carefully consider what your baby sees and hears when she is with you. When you make the inevitable mistakes and say or do the wrong thing, you still can help your baby learn by taking a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and show her how to make different, and better, choices.

Keep it Simple

It is best to let the world unfold for your baby, one small step at a time. You don't want to start pushing your newborn to know the alphabet or multiplication tables. The most important lessons your baby needs to learn are all about you and how the two of you will communicate. By sticking with simple loving words and actions, your baby will grow and develop and you'll find parenting to be a lot more fun. Next time, we’ll give you some examples of how to share some simple “lessons” with your baby.

Next Time: Polishing the Mirror: Simple Ways to Reflect the Best of Yourself for Your Baby

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thank you for spreading the word!

The Human Lactation Center has been very busy (and very cold), but we want to take a minute to thank all of our readers for spreading the word about our blog. We have more and more readers every day and that wouldn't be possible without you!

If you are new to our blog, we encourage you to look through the topics we've covered so far (on the left side under Labels). If you don't find what you're looking for, send us a comment and we'll add your topic to our list for future posts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Slight Detour: 10 Tips for Traveling with your Baby

Because so many parents travel with their babies during the holidays, we decided to take a slight "detour" from our planned blogs by offering 10 travel tips to lessen your stress while traveling this holiday season.

1. Plan Ahead - Traveling during the holidays can be unpredictable, so it is good to be as prepared as possible. If you are driving, make sure you have good directions and check the driving conditions before you leave. It is a good idea to map out places to stop along the way. If you are flying, remember that airports are busier during the holidays. Plan on arriving at the airport about 2 hours early and try to avoid scheduling layovers that are shorter than 1 hour, just in case there are delays.

2. Comfort is Key - The trip will be much easier if your baby is comfortable, so make sure your baby is dressed appropriately. Even when it is cold outside, avoid bulky clothing that may be uncomfortable when your baby is strapped into a carseat. Instead, bring a blanket or layers of clothing that can be used if you believe your baby is cold.

3. Naptime is a Nice Time - If possible, schedule driving time when your baby will be sleepy. If you are going to be in the car during your baby's naptime, make sure that you provide a lot of fun physical activity or stimulation before you leave so that your baby is worn out by the time you get on the road. If you don't mind driving at night, you can wait until it is bed time to leave (just make sure that you aren't too tired!)

4. Babies Get Bored Too - Riding in the car can be boring, especially for toddlers who have a lot of energy. Now that my daughter is older, we make sure that we have lots of stuff for her to do in the car. We bring music, books, and crayons to keep her entertained (magnetic drawing boards are fun and not messy). When she was younger, we would put colorful toys down by her feet for her to look at. My husband and I also take turns sitting in the back with her so that she doesn't get lonely.

5. More is better - When packing for a trip, it is better to have a few extra outfits and diapers than to be stuck in a car or airplane with a stinky baby. Remember to pack clothes for different kinds of weather. Even if you are traveling to somewhere warm, you don't want to risk an unexpected weather change making your baby uncomfortable.

6. Sailing through Security - With the extra baggage (car seat, stroller, etc) and the extra rules, flying with an infant certainly can be an adventure. For those of you traveling in the US, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a very useful website that provides tips for getting through security with kids efficiently. Be sure to check with your airline or local transportation administration to find out the rules before you go the airport.

7. Fussing while Flying - It is inevitable that your baby will fuss sometime during a flight. Don't let anyone bother or intimidate you if they complain or give you dirty looks. The flight won't last forever and you can only do your best. Have you noticed that babies on planes tend to be most fussy during take-offs and landings? This is because the pressure changes can cause discomfort in babies' ears. The best way to prevent discomfort is to breastfeed the baby during take-off and landing. Besides reducing the pressure, breastfeeding is comforting to the baby. Bottles and pacifiers can help reduce the pressure too, if breastfeeding is not an option.

8. Different Location, Same Routine - Babies do best when they can predict what is going to happen next (See Repetition in a Baby's Daily Life). We know that keeping a routine can be almost impossible when you are traveling, but remember that your baby will be much happier if you can keep things as normal as possible while you're away from home. Try to keep bed time consistent, eat meals around the same time, bring familiar toys, and don't schedue a lot of activities around your baby's normal nap times.

9. One Less Thing to Pack - Most hotels have cribs that can be brought to the room so that you don't have to bring your own. When you make your reservation, ask about reserving a crib. If you aren't able to reserve it at that time, call right before check-in to reserve one. Many hotels will have it ready and waiting for you when you arrive.

10. Pay Close Attention to Cues - Traveling during the holidays usually means visiting a lot of people; some your baby will know well and others she may not. Watch for your baby's cues (especially her "need a break" cues) to keep her from getting too overwhelmed by all the excitement around her. It is also helpful to plan some downtime when you and your baby can relax together.

Now we want to hear from you! What tips do you have for parents traveling with their infants and toddlers?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It Takes Two Baby: How Babies and Parents Learn about Each Other

Note to our readers: My astute daughter reminded me that I need to emphasize that we realize that parents are not the only caregivers of infants. For brevity, we will continue to refer to parents but we’d like to reassure all of our readers that we recognize that there are all kinds of families out there.

Last time, we shared ways that parents and other caregivers may make small changes in their activities and routines to help babies with different temperaments adapt to the world around them. Now, as promised, we’ll describe how different family members can build unique relationships with babies.

When parents truly believe that newborns only “eat, sleep, and poop,” it is easy to fall into patterns that lead mom to be in charge of one end of the baby (the feedings) and dad in charge of the other (diaper changes). That kind of arrangement can result in both parents becoming a little resentful. Now that you know so much more about your baby, you can see the value of other roles that adults play in babies’ lives. First and foremost, babies learn from adults. Every adult in a baby’s life teaches the baby something about his environment, feelings, thinking, or how to communicate.

Anyone who cares for breastfed babies knows that newborns will try to “latch on” to anyone and anything when they are hungry (even Dad) but soon, they learn that mom is the one they want when they are hungry. Babies learn to differentiate one adult from another by their faces, their smells, and the games they play. In turn, each caregiver learns about the baby, from cues, traits, and interactions. Babies’ relationships with moms are different from those with dads, grandparents, and siblings. Just as caregivers rely on numerous friends in their lives, babies thrive when they have many loving relationships.

While all of a baby’s caregivers need to address his basic needs (responding to cues, feeding, changing, etc.), each adult can develop his or her own special role in baby’s life. Here are some examples:

Mom – You aren’t just the “feeder.” Keep in mind that you are also your child’s primary teacher. Typically, you will spend the more time than other adults with your child. As you watch and respect your baby’s cues, provide stimulation, calm words, warmth and touch, you are teaching you baby that you will keep him safe while he learns about life. As important as your relationship is with your baby, it is important to let other family members develop their own roles in baby’s life.

Dads and partners – While you have a key role in supporting mom, especially during her recovery from childbirth, you provide important stimulation, variety, security and fun for the baby. Early on, while mom rests, you can play a key role by becoming the “translator” of the baby’s behavior. You can point out baby’s dreaming and cues and help regulate stimulation from visitors and siblings. When baby get’s older, you can help the baby safely explore (dads tend to have more tolerance for exploration) and provide higher level stimulation than mom is likely to provide. Just watch for disengagement cues so baby doesn’t get over stimulated!

Siblings – Babies love children and children have boundless energy. This makes for wonderful fun and stimulation for baby. Siblings do need to be taught about cues and the baby’s need for rest. Gentle supervised play can go a long way to help baby take an extra long nap!

Grandparents – While the world has changed and n ot all grandparents have extended periods of time to spend with their grandchildren, years of experience with their own children makes many grandparents calmly accepting of their grandchildren’s rhythms and needs. While parents have so many things going on in their lives, grandparents are often able to focus all of their attention on the baby. By bringing new stimulation, toys, faces, and voices to baby, grandparents can provide a lot of fun and learning with every visit.

Next time: The Two-way Mirror: How Parents' Influence Babies' World View

Friday, December 4, 2009

Babies with Personality! How Temperament Influences Babies' Relationships (Part 2)

In the last post, we described some of the traits that might be used to describe a baby’s temperament. Early on in babies’ lives, parents begin to notice their babies’ rhythms, reactions, and idiosyncrasies and how these characteristics combine to form their baby’s unique personality.

Developing relationships with babies can be confusing. There is no guarantee that our babies will be anything like we are, or our sister’s babies, or even our other children. You might be a highly social person who loves the excitement of travel and new experiences but you find your baby withdraws from relatives and cries or clings when brought into a new environment. Does that mean your traveling days are over and that you need to limit family visits? No! As with all relationships, the bond you have with your baby includes give and take, as well as ongoing compromise and acceptance. The most important thing you can do for your baby (and ultimately for yourself) is to understand your differences and be ready to help your baby fit into the lifestyle that works for you. When you understand and accept your baby’s traits, you can make appropriate modifications to your day-to-day activities that will keep you both happier.

You can help a shy baby by taking transitions a little slower, bringing familiar toys along with you when you go to new places, and being ready with calming repetitive words when the inevitable fussing starts. You can ask your relatives to give the baby a little time before they reach to hold him (this can be tough on grandma!).When you respond to your baby’s temperament with understanding and compassion, he learns that you will help him stay calm.

Here are some other ideas how you can take steps to help babies with different traits:

  • An active baby will need lots of supervision and you’ll need to baby-proof your home when your baby is still very young
  • A highly “regular” baby who thrives on routines will need to keep to a schedule as much as possible
  • Intense babies who are not very adaptable will take longer than other babies to calm down so you’ll need to be patient while soothing your baby
  • A baby who is not distractible won’t leave objects alone unless they are completely out of sight; it is best to look around carefully and put all of the worrisome things away

You can try to fight against your baby’s traits but you’ll find it to be a losing battle. Your baby isn’t trying to control you; your baby is just trying to get by with the tools he was born with.

If you find your baby is still a mystery to you, read over the descriptions of some of the traits from the last post. Imagine how the world looks from your baby’s perspective. Consider what changes in your activities and routines might make things easier for both of you. Again, you don’t have to transform your life completely, and some adjustments will be needed only until your baby is bit older. Many early baby traits will change, sometimes quite a bit. The little things you do each day to help your baby feel secure and safe will go a long way helping you build a loving bond. Even if your baby’s traits don’t change, the more secure your baby feels when he’s with you, the more readily he will learn to adapt to your world.

Next time: It Takes Two Baby: How Babies and Parents Learn about Each Other

Monday, November 30, 2009

Babies with Personality! How Temperament Influences Babies' Relationships (Part I)

In previous posts, we’ve described behaviors seen in every baby such as states, cues, and changing sleep patterns. Of course, every parent knows that babies are individuals, full of special qualities solely their own. Parents spend much of the first few months of their babies’ lives learning, often the hard way, about their newborns’ “temperament,” the special combination of traits that form each baby’s unique personality. Some of these traits are ingrained in babies at birth and others are influenced by their interactions with the world around them.

In this post, we’ll describe some of the traits commonly used by researchers and health care providers to assess infants’ temperament. This list is not complete and different researchers and doctors can have different names for some of these traits. We are using this list only to give you an idea of some of the specific traits you might want to look for in your baby. Before I go over the details, you should know that many babies’ traits change over time, some shift slightly and others change radically. No matter how well we think we know our children, there are always a few surprises around the corner.

Some of the Elements of Temperament

1. Activity refers to how much babies move around when given a chance. A highly active baby will be constantly on the move, kicking his legs and squirming excitedly as a newborn and climbing up on anything he can when he gets older. The less active newborn will be content to lie quietly watching a mobile or sit in your lap listening to a several books when she gets older.
2. Regularity refers to how easily babies develop and stick with routines. Babies with more regularity develop their own internal rhythms, tending to eat, sleep, and play at consistent times throughout the day and night. Other babies just can’t seem to settle into a schedule no matter how much parents work on developing a steady routine.
3. Approach-Withdrawal refers to the willingness of babies to interact with new people, toys, or environments. Some babies are excited to see new faces and places, others shy away, burrow into mom or dad’s shoulder or turn away from any new person or activity.
4. Adaptability refers to how quickly babies’ adjust to new experiences. Even babies who initially withdraw from new situations will differ in how long it takes before they get comfortable. Adaptable babies will settle down quickly when they meet new people or are brought to new places. Less adaptable babies take a long time to feel comfortable in new situations.
5. Intensity refers to the strength of babies’ emotions when dealing with the world around them. Some babies shriek hysterically when they are unhappy and others just whine. Happy babies can show differences in intensity too! Some happy babies will giggle with glee while others just smile.
6. Sensory Threshold refers to how much sensory input is needed to get a response from a baby. Some babies are highly sensitive to noises, smells, and bright lights while others are not.
7. Distractibility refers to how easily babies can be distracted from unpleasant or dangerous things. For example, some babies are easily redirected away from the dog’s water dish by a toy or a book and others will keep crawling back, no matter what parents do to distract them.
8. Attention Span refers to how long babies stay focused on something that interests them. Some children are content to play with blocks or a single toy for a long time, others quickly shift their attention from one toy or activity to another.

To help you get a better picture of how these traits fit together, I’ll tell you about my own babies (they are both in their 20s now). In an earlier post, I told you that my daughter was a persistent crier (for about 4 months), and I learned later she had a very low sensory threshold. She was active, but not overly so, intense in her responses (both happy and sad), slow to approach new situations, but quite adaptable once she was familiar with people or places. She thrived on routine and developed consistent patterns for sleeping and eating quite early in her life. She had a surprisingly long attention span and was never distractible if she really wanted something.

In contrast, my son was highly active, rarely cried, was not as intense as his sister in his responses to the world, loved new people and places, had a relatively high sensory threshold, and was easily distracted away from dangerous things. Like his sister, he had a long attention span. He also adapted readily to new situations but was not very good about eating and sleeping according to any kind of routine.

Surprisingly, very different temperaments can emerge in children from the same family. My daughter might have been considered a more “difficult” baby than my son but her intense concentration and interest in the world has resulted in her being the scholar in the family. My highly active, adaptable son is one of the captains of his college baseball team.

If you know what to look for, infancy and childhood are full of hints about the adults your children will become. For now, learning about your baby’s temperament can help you feel a lot more confident that you are the expert when it comes to taking care of your baby.

Next time: We’ll take a closer look at how a baby’s temperament influences her relationships with her parents and other caregivers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

All of us at the UC Davis Human Lactation Center wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving! We'll be back early next week with a new post!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Insanity of Parenting: Have You Seen the Job Description?

Wanted: Devoted Caregiver.
Hours: 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for approximately 18 to 20 years.
On Call Duty: For the rest of your life.
Working Conditions: Must be able to endure severe sleep deprivation, strong smells, stressful situations, and loud unpleasant noises.
Pay: No monetary compensation, considerable long-term expenses for the job holder.

Given the stress, expense, and challenges of parenting, it is a wonder that so many of us choose to take on this important job. Amazingly, many of us are crazy enough to become parents over and over again! Obviously, there are many rewards that come from parenting. Ask most parents, especially after they have caught up on a little sleep, and they will tell you that the wide-eyed wonder in their children’s eyes and the connection and love they feel for their children make it all worthwhile. In North America, our culture is filled with movies, television shows, commercials, and holidays celebrating the special role that parents play in their children’s lives. Yet, I imagine that contemporary mothers and fathers watching those portrayals of families in old shows and commercials must think that parenting is a lot tougher now than it used to be. I, for one, would have to agree.

Where is that “Village?”

While we’ve all heard that old adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” very few of today’s parents have anything like a village to turn to when things get tough. More often, new parents are isolated from family, friends, neighbors, and sometimes even from each other. In today’s society, there are few grandmothers who can come and sit with the baby while mom takes a nap or dad makes something to eat. Instead, parents who already are physically drained by the birth experience and sleep deprivation, are on their own in caring for their babies. Overwhelmed by the time and effort needed to care for the baby, both parents wonder why the other can’t do more to help. Parents who are lucky enough to have a job in this economy find that they have to return to work very early in their children’s lives. Some, especially fathers, have no time off at all. No wonder the scientific literature is filled with studies of how overwhelmed, isolated, and tired new parents feel.

Raising a Perfect Child in the Information Age

It is hard to imagine but the explosion in the use of the internet is less than a decade old. With “smart phones,” broadband connections, and Wi-Fi everywhere, parents are virtually surrounded by an army of parenting experts full of contradicting “truths” along with tragic stories about children whose parents didn’t follow their advice. With so much research on child development, it seems it should now be possible to raise a “perfect” child by following all the rules that recent science provides. Instincts and feelings, relied upon by so many previous generations (including my own), may seem to be old-fashioned or even primitive in today’s information-saturated world. Fearing making mistakes that might scar their babies, today’s parents struggle with day-to-day decisions and many live with constant guilt.

Parenting is both terribly hard and tremendously rewarding. Through parenting, many of us gain a sense of purpose and reach levels of intimacy with our children, partners, and families that we never dreamed possible. We take pride in and love our children, yet many of us struggle to meet our other responsibilities fearing that we aren’t doing enough in any of the roles we play. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more about what is known about parents’ roles in shaping their children’s lives. Next time, we’ll help you identify characteristics in your own child that can help you better understand his unique nature and how these characteristics influence his relationship with you and others. Through understanding more about your baby and your relationship with him, we hope that some of the stress you’re enduring can be reduced. Given the barrage of information that you’re already getting, we’ll make sure to keep the posts straightforward and concise. We've been focused on babies since we began our blog. Now, it's time to widen our perspective to include babies' hardworking parents too.

Next time: Babies with Personality! How Temperament Influences Babies' Relationships

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Coming Soon: A New Series about Parent - Baby Relationships

From the beginning of "Secrets of Baby Behavior," we've focused on helping parents gain a better understanding of their babies' sometimes mysterious needs and behavior. We've done our best to create a vivid and realistic picture of what it is like to care for babies from birth to 12 months of age. While we have a lot more "secrets" to share about babies, we realize now that we are long overdue in talking about how parents fit in! Over the next few weeks, we'll focus our posts on the amazing interactions among biology, personality, instincts, and love that create and nurture the unique relationships that develop between parents and their infant children.

Here's a sneak peak at just some of the upcoming topics:
  • The Insanity of Parenting: Have You Seen the Job Description?
  • Babies with Personality! How Temperament Influences Babies' Relationships
  • It Takes Two Baby: How Babies and Parents Learn About Each Other
  • The Two-way Mirror: How Parents' Influence Babies' World View
  • Barriers to Building Relationships with Babies: Marketing and the Perfect Parent
  • New Babies, Growing Families and Fitting In

We hope that you'll enjoy our new series and that you'll share your views and comments with us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Three Newborn Behaviors That Can Mislead Parents

All new mothers want their babies to be well fed, comfortable, and happy whenever possible. Because babies aren’t able to use words, parents have to rely on powerful, but limited, cues that babies use to communicate their needs. In the past, we’ve shared basic information about these cues and what to do about them. While most parents find babies’ early cues to be confusing, there are some cues that can be particularly misleading. We thought it would be useful to put three of the most common misleading newborn behaviors in one post.

Important Note: These behaviors are misleading only if the baby is healthy, his weight gain is good, he has frequent dirty diapers, and he is demanding to be fed at reasonable intervals. If you have any concerns about any of these important indicators that feedings are going well, be sure to see your baby’s doctor.

Why do some babies fuss, turn or arch away from the breast or bottle when they seem to be hungry?

What might you see? Some babies who are using hunger cues will seem to “reject” the breast or the bottle when their caregivers try to feed them. Before they begin to feed, some babies may turn their heads away, arch, stiffen, push away, and cry. This may be more common in newborns and in babies who are easily distracted between 4 and 7 months of age. These behaviors can be misleading to parents who don’t know how to respond to these babies who can’t seem to make up their minds!

Why might this happen? Remember that babies are born with limited communication skills. Newborns have very little control over their bodies and a “vocabulary” that’s limited to “Yes, I want to interact” (engagement cues) and “No, I need a break” (disengagement cues). Imagine a baby is hungry and wants to feed but just as he is about to latch, a dog barks, and his big brother comes running into the room shouting. Using disengagement cues, baby tries to tell mom that he doesn’t like the noise or the movement around him. Because mom is concentrating on trying to feed the baby, she may not pay attention to what is going on around her and she may miss early cues that baby needs something to change before he can eat. When a hungry baby refuses to feed, it is important to pay attention to the big picture. Is baby uncomfortable for some reason? Are the lights too bright? Are noises too loud? Some babies are sensitive to their surroundings, others are not, and some are irritated by distractions only for short periods of time. Sensitive babies may feed better if they are able to do so in a place that is relatively free of distractions.

Why do some babies cry 5-15 minutes after nearly every feeding?

What might you see? Some healthy newborns and young babies who are eating and growing well may routinely cry or fuss after they’ve been fed. At the same time, they may twist, arch, and turn away from caregivers who are trying to help. This can mislead parents into thinking that the baby is still hungry even though the baby is not using any hunger cues.

Why might this happen? These babies may be particularly sensitive to their own bodily functions such as needing to burp, poop, or pee. When babies feed, these functions become active. Since these bodily sensations are new, some babies find them irritating and distracting. Babies, who fuss and twist routinely after good feeds, may be signaling that they “need a break” from their own body functions. How can you tell if this is the problem? Pay close attention to the timing of the fussing. Is it predictable? Does baby routinely need diaper changes just a few minutes after the fussy time? Does an extra burp seem to help? Imagine what life would be like not knowing why your body keeps making your tummy and bottom end so uncomfortable. Comforting your baby until the diaper needs changing can make everyone a little happier. Fortunately, most babies quickly grow out of this phase.

Why do some babies wake up every time you try to put them down for a nap after feeding?

What might you see? Newborns typically sleep more than 15 hours per day. Many parents think that newborns only “eat, sleep and poop.” Of course, new parents are exhausted because babies wake so frequently. It is not unusual for a newborn to drift off to sleep after nearly every feed, only to wake and fuss moments later when mom tries to put her down for a nap. This waking can mislead mom or dad into thinking that the baby is still hungry even if the baby has had a good feeding. After all, wouldn’t a baby who was “full” stay asleep?

Why might this happen? Until babies are about 4 months old, they fall asleep into a light state of sleep called “active sleep.” Dreaming is so important to babies’ brain development that they dream far more than adults. Newborns may dream for 20 or 30 minutes after they first fall asleep. Babies who are dreaming may wake up when you change their position or put them down. You can see when your baby is dreaming (her muscles will twitch and her eyelids will flutter). If you wait a few minutes and put your baby down after she stops showing signs of dreaming, you’ll find she isn’t likely to wake up right away. The periods of initial dreaming (and light sleep) shorten within the first few weeks of life, making it easier to put baby down to nap. When your baby is around 3 or 4 months of age, she’ll fall asleep in a deeper type of sleep and she’ll stay asleep for longer stretches of time!

Next time: We’ll introduce our new series on how parents develop relationships with their babies.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Monitoring Development in Babies Born Prematurely - My Experience during Developmental Follow-up Appointments

Bringing home a baby who was born prematurely is a big milestone! In a previous post, I described how it felt to bring my daughter home almost 2 ½ months after she was born. It was exciting that she was strong enough to come home, but it was a little scary too. Even though she was finally home, our experience was still different than it would have been if she had been born at term. We were careful about taking her out in public and about having visitors at the house, so that she wouldn’t be exposed to germs and illnesses. In the first month, we visited the pediatrician weekly, then monthly for the next year. Now that she is older, we visit the pediatrician on the typical schedule, once every few months.

In addition to her normal pediatrician, we have appointments with a special medical team who evaluate her development. Because babies who are born early develop differently than most babies, it is important to monitor their progress and identify any issues early. Where families receive their developmental follow-up depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to type of insurance, location, and the infant’s risk level. One way is through an Early Intervention Program (EIP) which is a federal- and state-funded program for infants who are at risk of developmental delay. We had our appointments at a follow-up clinic connected with the hospital where Olivia was born. The hospital should provide information about who will be conducting the follow-up visits before your baby is discharged.

The number of appointments needed varies based on degree of prematurity, health status, and developmental progress. During the appointment, evaluations will be conducted by a number of different specialists. The development team typically consists of developmental pediatricians, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, social workers and ophthalmologists.

We had our first developmental follow-up appointment when Olivia’s chronological age was 10 months and her corrected age was 6 months. Chronological age is the age from the day the baby was born. Corrected or adjusted age is the age of the baby based on the due date. For premature babies, both numbers are important. You need both numbers to get a clearer picture of where your baby should be developmentally. For example, although Olivia was 10 months old, she had just started sitting up, which is something babies usually do around 6 months of age.

I remember being really nervous before our first appointment because I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out I had nothing to worry about and that I actually enjoyed finding out how Olivia was progressing. Here is an overview of what happened during our first appointment.

First we met with a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, who took Olivia’s measurements (weight, length, and head circumference), evaluated her muscle development and reflexes, and discussed her health history with us. The measurements were taken using very precise methods. Muscle development is examined because premature infants’ muscles develop differently than they would have in utero. For example, the muscles required to have a straight, stretched out body develop early in pregnancy, when there is plenty of room in the womb. As babies get bigger, the amount of space in the womb decreases, forcing them to curl into what is commonly called the fetal position. Babies who are born very early have to develop the muscles needed to curl up after they are born and the difference between developing in the womb and in a crib can affect how they learn to sit, crawl, and walk. It is very common for premature babies to have tight muscles and joints. Olivia’s ankles were especially tight, so we were given exercises to help them loosen up and make it easier for her to walk when she was ready.

Next, we met with a physical therapist, who conducted a developmental evaluation. The physical therapist used the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. The assessment evaluates cognitive development, receptive language, expressive language, fine motor development, and gross motor development. During the assessment, the physical therapist uses different toys to test the baby’s abilities and observes how the baby interacts with both her parents and with the world around her.

The last person we met was the social worker. She asked us questions about our support system (family, friends, etc), our work, and our life at home. The goal of the social worker is to determine how your family is coping with the new child and to address any needs you may have.

After the appointment, the medical specialists developed a report about Olivia’s developmental status. Copies of the report were sent to her pediatrician and to us. Summaries of the team’s observations were provided along with the scores from the developmental evaluation (based on both chronological age and corrected age). The final section of the report described the team’s recommendations and referrals.

So far, Olivia has visited the follow-up clinic twice, at 10 months and 18 months, and she is scheduled to go again at 26 months. Our second appointment was much like the first, just with different tests. Even though I was nervous before our first appointment, now that we’ve been through it, I am grateful for the opportunity to see how Olivia’s development compares to that of children born at term. It has also relieved some of our stress to know that she will get the help she needs if she encounters any difficulties.

Next time: We’ll describe some baby behaviors that can be misleading.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Welcome New Readers!

We have had over 2000 individual readers in the last month! To all of the new readers out there, WELCOME! In this blog, you'll hear from moms who have been in the trenches (and in the classroom), who understand what you are going through and what your baby is trying to tell you. We look forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with you and we hope that you'll share your ideas and questions with us. If you haven't already, we recommend going back to our previous posts. Here are some of the topics we've covered since the blog was launched just a few months ago:

We'd like to thank all of you who have been recommending Secrets of Baby Behavior to others. We encourage you to post questions and comments as they come to mind so that we can continue to help you learn more about infant behavior.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Starting Solid Foods: It's Worth the Wait

I can remember being very excited to start solids foods with my daughter (what dietitian turned first time mom wouldn’t be, right?). I saw starting solids as an important milestone to be achieved. And though I knew that starting solid foods would not help my baby sleep through the night (yes, I’ve read the research!), I secretly hoped it might help her sleep just a little bit longer. I can remember family members saying “Oh! She’s eating solids now. She must be sleeping more at night!” Then, they would look at me strangely when I would say “Nope. It had no effect on her sleep. In fact, she may be waking more frequently now.” They would counter with: “Wow. She’s a stubborn one!” True. She was (and is) one stubborn girl, but babies sleep through the night when they are ready to, and starting solids or giving a nice hearty bowl of oatmeal before bedtime won’t change that.

I’m sure I was not the first parent (or the last) to be confused by all of the information out there about starting solid foods. So, the following information is based on the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, my experience as a dietitian working with mothers and infants in a clinic setting, and my experience raising (and feeding) my own little girl.

The Recommendations
In the past, parents have been told to start solid foods when their babies are around 4-months old. Then, in 2004, the American Academy of Pediatrics provided updated recommendations stating that “infants may be physically ready to accept solid foods sometime between 4 and 6 months.” And just to make it more confusing, the Breastfeeding Section of the American Academy of Pediatrics* published their own recommendation stating that “Complementary foods rich in iron should be introduced gradually beginning around 6 months of age.” But, results from a 2008 study** showed that nearly half of all infants are still being fed solid foods before 4 months, and many doctors are still recommending starting solids around 4 months old. No wonder parents are confused!

Why wait so long?
While an infant’s GI (gastrointestinal) tract may be capable of handling solid foods by 3-4 months of age, oral, gross, and fine motor skills required for eating solids generally don’t emerge until around 4-6 months of age. Yes, that is a wide age range, but the new guidelines focus more on developmental readiness than on age. One baby may be ready at 4 months, while another isn’t ready until 6. When I tried to feed my daughter baby cereal at about 5 ½ months, she immediately turned her head away. I tried again at her next mealtime and she spit the cereal all over me. I took that as a sign that she wasn’t quite ready.

Ready or not?
So, how do you know for sure when a baby is developmentally ready to eat solid foods? Your baby needs to be able to do ALL of the following things to be ready to eat solid foods: sit up with support, hold her head steady, put her fingers or toys in her mouth, show she wants food by opening her mouth, close her lips over her spoon, show she doesn't want food by turning her head away and keep food in her mouth and swallow it.

What to feed first
The important thing is to start with an iron-rich food. Examples are iron-fortified infant cereal or baby food meats. Many parents start with cereal. You do want to start with single-ingredient foods, and feed only one food at a time to identify any foods that the baby may be allergic to. After starting a high-iron food, there is no specific order for new foods as long as there is a gradual progression of textures as tolerated. The progression of textures is smooth, mashed, chopped, and then tiny pieces. Just be sure that one texture can be chewed and swallowed before moving onto the next one.

How much should I feed?
Watch your baby’s cues. Babies will let you know when they have had enough. My daughter was very dramatic about this. When she was full, she would pick up her bowl of food and throw it across the room. Other, less messy, fullness cues include slowing the pace or stopping eating, spitting out or refusing the food or spoon, batting the spoon away, or closing mouth as spoon approaches. Maybe I should have paid closer attention to those early cues!

A final word about solid foods
If your baby doesn’t eat solid foods when you first offer them, don’t panic! At first, babies must learn to eat solid foods. Respect your baby’s fullness or disengagement cues, and try offering the food at a later feeding or on another day or week. Never force your baby to eat; that can create feeding problems later in life. As far as sleeping through the night is concerned, adding a little cereal before a baby is ready for it can do more harm than good and it won’t help a baby sleep longer. Starting solid foods early has been linked to increased risk for developing allergies and diabetes. As always, talk to your baby’s doctor about when it is best for you to start solid foods. But be sure to watch for those early disengagement cues, or you might get hit by a flying bowl!

Next time: What to Expect from Follow-up Appointments with A Preterm Baby


Sunday, November 1, 2009

October Quiz - Answers

Here are the answers to last week's quiz.

1. True or False: Healthy babies cry for 1-4 hours per day. The answer is True. Healthy babies usually cry between 1 and 4 hours a day. Some babies may cry less and some may cry more. Crying is just one way babies communicate.

2. When do most babies start smiling on purpose? Most babies start social smiling at 6-8 weeks old. You may see a newborn smile once in a while, but it is just a reflex. Even though they haven't gained control over their smiles, young babies love to see your smiling face!

3. What is the greatest amount of children born to one woman? The record number of babies born to one woman is 69. According to the Guinness World Records, in the 1700s a Russian peasant gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets.

4. What percentage of a newborn's weight is from the head? A baby's head makes up 25% of their body weight. If you think babies' heads seem big for their bodies, you are right. Adults' heads make up only about 8% of their body weight.

5. What percentage of babies take their first step by 11 months of age? The answer is 10%. Another 40% take steps around their first birthday. Another 10% take their first steps by 15 months old. When it comes to walking, there is a wide range of what is normal. Babies learn to walk at their own pace, most often between 9 and 16 months of age.

How'd you do? We'd love to hear from you!

Next Time: Starting solid foods

Friday, October 30, 2009

October Baby Quiz

It's time for this month's Baby Quiz!

1. True or False: Healthy babies cry for 1-4 hours per day?

2. When do most babies start smiling on purpose?

3. What is the greatest amount of children born to one woman?

4. What percentage of a newborn's weight is from the head?

5. What percentage of babies take their first step by 11 months of age?

a. 50%
b. 10%
c. 90%
d. 2%

The answers will be posted early next week. In the meantime, we'd love to see your answers. Send us a comment!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Votes are In!

Thanks to all who voted on our poll! Looks like nearly all of our readers are parents interested in learning about their babies or health/education specialists. We are rapidly closing on on 2000 loyal readers. Thanks to one and all! Given how many of you are parents, we'll put together a series on your role in building your relationship with your baby. Look for it in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we'll have some quizzes and personal stories to share.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Mom With No Mom

My own mother died when I was 19, two years before I was married, and nearly 4 years before my first child was born. Of course, my experience is far from unique. Every year, millions of women face the transition to motherhood without their own mothers’ support. Some mothers and daughters are separated by death, others by distance, and others by barriers more emotional than physical. Whatever the reason, not having your own mom nearby during those first few weeks is particularly painful. For most of us, the stress, lack of sleep, and pain in those unending first days seem to arouse a childlike need for someone to reassure and care for us. While friends or other family members may do their best to step into that caretaker’s role, there seems to be a perception (real or not) that their efforts just don’t measure up. Now, before you think this post might be too depressing to read, I want you know that there are steps you can take to prepare for the inevitable challenges. So, if you, like me, are (or will be) a motherless mother, here are some tips to help you make the rough road ahead a little easier to navigate.

Accept Help

Depending on the circumstances of your separation from your own mother, you may have grown into a woman who prides herself on her self-reliance. If so, I’ve got 3 words for you. Get over it! Remember, your newborn is likely to wake every 1 to 2 hours, around the clock! Your baby is going to need to be fed, changed, dressed, held, and loved no matter how tired you become. Even after the first few months, there will be days (and nights) when you’ll need support. If you rarely ask for or accept help, this is the one time in your life when help is essential. What’s more, other parents will want to help you as part of the unwritten “pay it forward” rule that seems nearly universal among young families. Given a chance, many people will reach out happily to new mothers in extraordinary ways. For example, a few days after I brought my daughter home from the hospital, my landlady, sensing my exhaustion, slept on my couch one night to help my husband and I get a little more precious sleep. Friends and co-workers dropped off meals for two weeks and many did the dishes before they left. Asking for help does not mean you are a bad parent or a weak person; asking for help will give you the time needed to begin your relationship with your new baby.

Apart from physical help (with groceries, chores, and diaper changes), it is important that you build a trusted network of friends and family that can be relied on when you need to talk, ask questions, or share the joys and fears that come with being a parent.

Learn As Much As You Can

Stress is often the result when we feel out of control or when we don’t understand what is happening to us. Ask your doctor and trusted friends for recommendations for books, blogs (like this one!), videos, and articles about babies, parenting, and special topics like infant first aid and child development. Take a class if you have the time! As you know, a baby’s behavior can seem mysterious and overwhelming. The more you know about why your baby cries and wakes, the more confidence you’ll have in your parenting. One word of caution, it is always wise to double check your facts when you make the big parenting decisions. As you can tell from this blog, there are a lot of myths about babies out there.

Allow Yourself Some Time to Grieve

No matter why you are separated from your mother, be sure to give yourself the time to grieve the loss of that unique relationship. The first few days at home can be particularly challenging when you don’t have the idealized experience shared by new mothers with intact families excitedly gathering around to celebrate the baby. The major holidays, and especially Mother’s Day can be tough too. It may help to start some new holiday traditions that you can look forward to as your new baby grows.

Undoubtedly, there will be tough times when it will be important for you to talk about your feelings with those you love and trust. If you find yourself struggling with your feelings or your connection with your baby, be sure to talk to your doctor or therapist.

Be a Parenting “Pioneer”

Many women look to their own mothers as role models to guide their parenting style. However, motherless mothers may have lost their own mothers so early in life, that they have no recollection of how they were raised. There are also many women whose own mothers were unable to serve as healthy role models. Without role models and positive examples, motherless mothers must be like pioneers, facing each new challenge with courage and an open mind. If you are a parenting “pioneer,” find women you admire, or even better, women with children you admire and ask them for advice and direction when you feel you might lose your way. Don't ever feel that you have to be a perfect parent. Trust me; they don't exist. Just keep in mind that whatever your own childhood experience, you have the power to start fresh with your own children.

Next Time: It’s time for another baby quiz!

Friday, October 23, 2009

12 months: Celebration and Independence, Frustration and Experimentation

By Jennifer Banuelos

Time flies when you are having fun, especially when you're sleep deprived! It probably seems like just yesterday that you brought your tiny baby home, but a whole year has gone by. While you are busy baking a birthday cake and wrapping presents, your 12-month-old is busy too! Here is a little of what you can expect from your toddler.

Social and Cognitive Development
While celebrating your baby's first birthday might make you feel sentimental, your baby is probably feeling confused. The need for independence intensifies at this age, but even though your baby wants to do things on his own, his ambitions are often far beyond his abilities. While his body is telling him to try new things, his brain is telling him to stick to what (and who) he knows best. Your baby's continued separation anxiety, can be very frustrating. Although you may be able to take some deep breaths to relieve the frustration, your baby's frustration can quickly mount into a tantrum. The key to handling these confusing times is patience, and since your baby is not yet capable of being patient, it is the perfect time for you to show her how it's done! When you notice your baby becoming frustrated, take a few deep breaths and assess the situation. Does she want some help, or is she determined to do something on her own? Either way, you will be more likely to best support her if you identify what she needs. Don't get me wrong, both of you will still get frustrated at times, but staying calm and showing your baby that you understand her frustration will help her feel safe and supported.I realize that it may seem like life with a 12-month-old is all about inner struggles and tantrums, but there's so much more! As babies transition into toddlers, they begin to see things from a new perspective, literally and figuratively. They become little scientists, exploring and testing the world around them. I remember giving my daughter a new toy in the car one day. It was an orange block with different textures on each side. She spent the entire trip turning it around, carefully inspecting each of the sides. I was amazed that she was entertained for so long by this block, which, in my opinion, was a pretty boring toy. For the next 2 weeks, she inspected that block every time we got in the car. Then, she discovered that it could be dropped. Even though it can be annoying to parents, dropping things is just another way babies test the world around them. Don't worry, the novelty wears off eventually! It is important to note that at this age, babies' memories are improving. If your baby does something that makes you laugh today, there's a good chance she'll do it again tomorrow, even if it is something that you don't want her to do again (like rubbing beans in her hair). Keep that in mind when you react to some of your baby's new behaviors. I should note that I am extremely bad at hiding my amusement with my own child.

When it comes to moving, 12-month-olds often have a one track mind. It is common for babies this age to focus all of their energy on moving around (whether they are walking or crawling), leaving little time for eating, sleeping, or getting a diaper changed. I had Olivia in the office one day, right before her first birthday. She was tired, so I laid a little blanket on the floor and rocked her to sleep. She fell asleep quickly (which was unusual). As soon as I placed her on the blanket, she sprung up into a sitting position. At first I was frustrated, but Jane was sitting next to me and she laughed. She reminded me that Olivia's motor drives were in full force! Within just a few days, Olivia pulled up on the couch for the first time. Although babies' sleep can be interrupted by the need to move, 80% of 12-month-olds sleep through the night (at least 6 straight hours.

We hope that you've found our posts on developmental stages useful. Remember, we've shared the research about what many babies do at each stage, but every baby is unique and they all grow and develop on their own schedule, not ours!

Next Time: We'll share a few more stories about our own experiences when our children were babies.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tell us about yourself!

We want to know more about our readers. Please take a moment to answer our poll (on the left) and tell us the primary reason you read our blog. Thanks to all of you!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

8-10 months: Learning to stand; the view from the top is very exciting!

We’ve mentioned many times that “every baby is different,” and it is probably more apparent between 8-10 months than at any other age! One baby may skip crawling altogether and go straight to standing or walking, while another may be perfectly content not to try to stand on her own for a few more weeks. Either way, change is in the air as babies work hard to achieve developmental milestones, and just as parents think they’ve got a nice routine worked out, sleeping and feeding patterns become disrupted once again. Yes, it’s frustrating, but when your baby is focused on achieving each exciting step, fatigue and hunger just aren’t the priority!

Social Development

By 10 months stranger anxiety is in full force. Continue to let baby take her own time getting to know new people or familiar people that she hasn’t seen for awhile. Separations may also become more difficult. As babies get more independent, they actually become more dependent on you as a safe haven. Prepare her when you leave by saying goodbye and reminding her that you will come back. Frustration becomes more intense and frequent at this age. I can remember my daughter rocking on her hands and knees crying out of frustration at not being able to get her hands and knees to move forward in coordination. It was almost comical, except for the times she awoke at 2am to practice in her crib!

Physical Development

As mentioned above, babies may wake to practice each new motor task during the night. As each new task is achieved, sleep will return to normal. Keep in mind that learning to stand brings a whole new perspective to baby’s view of the world and a whole new height for parents to baby proof (forget about hiding untouchables on top of tables or furniture now!) After babies learn to sit without any support, their next goal is crawling, followed by standing and walking. Soon they will pull up on furniture to stand and cruise along the couch. Some may even let go of the couch and take a brave step away.

Babies preoccupied by motor drives also prefer not to waste their precious learning time eating. Breastfeeding mothers may take this as a sign that it’s time to wean, but as babies become more independent, it’s important for them to have a safe place to come to between adventures, and what better place than their mothers’ arms during a feeding. Feedings can become quite the challenge when babies become mobile! Whenever possible, let him finger feed himself (with development of the “pincer grasp” baby can now pick up small objects with his thumb and forefinger.) Don’t be alarmed by messy feedings as babies practice this new skill and explore their food. That’s how they learn!

Cognitive Development

All of this new independence might make some parents start to think about discipline and wonder what is appropriate for a baby this age. I knew my daughter was ready for some limit setting when she crawled toward our dog, tried to touch his food bowl, and then quickly looked back at me with big eyes and just a twinge of a smile. Yes, I had told her to stay away from the dog’s food bowl about a dozen times, and yes, it appeared she remembered that she was doing something I wouldn’t approve of. Really the best discipline at this age is diversion. So, as I said “Yuck! No dog food!” I swooped her up and redirected her attention to a fun toy in the other room. Really, she wasn’t testing her power over me; she was just sweetly asking me to set that boundary for her so that she felt safe. The important thing when setting limits is consistency, and almost like déjà vu, I relived that very episode (baby to dog bowl, baby looks at me for disapproval, I say “Yuck. No dog food!”and steal her away from the scene to divert her attention) many, many times over the coming weeks.

By this age, babies also become goal-directed in their behavior (see dog food example above!). They also enjoy repetitive games like peek-a-boo more than ever because their understanding of object permanence and person permanence (understanding that caregivers still exist after they are out of site) are strengthening. They are better able to remember object locations and even begin to anticipate events and may try to make them reoccur. They also look for their caregivers after they leave the room. Parents can practice peek-a-boo or hiding games to help babies develop trust that their parents always return.

As evidenced by my daughter’s dog food incident, by about 9-10 months, babies are learning how to assess danger by watching their parents’ facial expressions. They begin to search for “emotional cues” from their parents as to whether there is approval or disapproval of their actions. Babies this age also love to learn by imitating and because they have developed more memory, they can watch you play with a particular toy one way on Monday, and repeat that same type of play on Tuesday themselves.

Next time: 12 months: The independent toddler starts to walk around; the drive to master walking will keep her busy day and night!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Infant Development from 6 to 7 months: New Wonders, New Skills, and New Fears

By six months, babies have become more predictable and are sleeping longer stretches, making caring for them much easier for their beleaguered parents. With more control over their own bodies, 6-month-olds become eager to explore their worlds and practice their ever expanding motor skills, sometimes finding themselves frustrated and a little fussy. Despite the ups and downs, many parents find this age to be one of their favorites.

Social Development

Babies who are 6 to 7 months old are highly social and interactive with those they find familiar. They will squeal and smile, flirt and flail their arms and legs, hoping for a joyful response and approval from their parents. Sometimes the squeals will turn to shrieks if babies are not given the attention they crave. Now, before you start thinking that responding to your baby will spoil him, imagine how it would feel to suddenly realize that you have the power to communicate with those you love (like figuring out Skype for the first time). Wouldn’t you want to tell them how much you cared and how much you wanted to be with them? And wouldn’t you “turn up the volume” if you thought that they couldn’t hear you? That’s all that your baby is trying to do.

Interestingly, babies at this age also become wary of strangers, recognizing that some of the faces that they see are unfamiliar. While unfamiliar faces were of interest in the past, they now are a little unnerving. Around this time, you’ll want to take introductions a little slower, no more passing the baby from adult to adult as you did when she was younger. Let baby take her own time to get to know new people. If you are patient, you'll find that she is happy to accept new relationships that are not forced on her too quickly. By the second half of the first year, babies start to figure out that they want to stay closest to their parents and those they see each day. Separations that used to be easy are now a little rocky and may be filled with tears.

Cognitive Development

Along with their new found social skills, 6-month-olds become little scientists, experimenting with the world around them as much as possible. While it is controversial when “object permanence” emerges, many babies around this age will start to enjoy games where things apparently disappear then reappear. "Object permanence" refers to the understanding that objects that you can't see still exist. Very young babies will lose interest in things that are out of their sight and don't look for them. Older babies enjoy peek-a-boo and seeing objects that come out of hiding places, like an old-fashioned jack-in-the-box toy or a ball that rolls in one end of a tube and out the other. As they gain control over their arms and hands, babies explore objects with their fingers as well as their eyes and many will put everything they can into their mouths. Sucking on toys and tasting blankets become major pastimes. Obviously, care must be taken that only the right things end up getting investigated in this way. Building on earlier learning about “cause and effect,” 6- to 7-month-olds will start to vocalize in more consistent ways, hoping to get the same response. While using words is still to come, babies will babble using consonants and vowels, returning to sounds that seemed to get the desired response.

Physical Development

The rapid gains in motor skills over the last couple of months accelerate. As baby learns to sit for longer and longer periods without support, his hands become free for reaching and grasping toys in his reach, first with his whole hand and then with just his fingers. Moving forward becomes an important goal and babies will work hard to creep along on their bellies and eventually to pull themselves up on their hands and knees. Many babies find themselves crawling backward at first, often becoming a source of entertainment for older siblings. Practicing these new feats may be a 24-hour a day job and night waking may increase for a short time.

If you haven’t already completely baby-proofed, now is the time. Take it to a new level. Babies progress so quickly over the next few months, you should "proof" your house now as if your baby could stand and walk. It is vital that you make sure that baby can’t get hold of anything dangerous, because his instinct will be to poke, hold, and taste everything.

Next time: 8-10 months: Babies are learning to stand and may pull up on furniture; the view from the top is very exciting!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Welcome new readers!!!

If this is your first visit, we recommend you go back and read our June posts (you can do that by clicking on the "June" link on the left or on the following links). These early posts cover the basics of baby behavior including why babies wake up at night, babies' moods (or "states"), how babies communicate with adults, and why babies cry so much. We will continue to build on these basics as we go forward with our blog.
We'd like to thank all of you who have been recommending Secrets of Baby Behavior to others. We encourage you to post questions and comments as they come to mind.

Next time, we'll continue our look at babies' development from 6 to 8 months!