Friday, August 15, 2014

7 Facts about Maternal Depression

With depression in the news this week, we wanted to join so many others who are trying to address misinformation about depression and mental health issues. Before I say anything more, I want to say that I am not an expert (in any way) about postpartum depression nor am I qualified to diagnose any mental health condition. But, here are some basic facts that expectant moms, new moms, and loving friends and family should know about maternal depression.

1. Maternal depression does not have a timeline.

We hear most about "postpartum" depression occurring in the early weeks and months after a baby is born. But depression can occur during pregnancy, early in the postpartum period, and after the baby is older. Any mother showing signs of depression needs to seek help and she should not wait to see if she "gets over it."

2. Depression is not the same thing as sadness.

Because "depression" is used so freely to refer to everyday feelings of sadness or low energy, people can be confused and expect that mothers who are depressed must cry everyday. It is important to consult the resources below if you are unsure of what it means to be depressed.

3. Maternal depression is not a choice or something that women can be "strong enough" or "brave enough" to avoid.

For so long, mental health disorders have carried a stigma because they were so poorly understood by those who had no personal experience to draw from. Because there are people who write about "beating" their mental health issues on their own, there can be an expectation that it is a matter of strength or perseverance. Don't believe it and don't wait to get help for yourself or any mother you love.

4. Maternal depression can happen to anyone but is more likely to occur among women with a history of depression.

If you or a mother you love has had a history of depression or other mental health disorders, it is important to have a plan or step in sooner should you become concerned. Having challenges earlier in life does not always mean that you will have a recurrence during or after pregnancy but the risk is high enough that you want get the resources in place so you can get help quickly if you need to. Tell your doctor, get informed, and make a plan.

5. Depressed mothers may not ask for help.

Depression is so disempowering that those who suffer most are least likely to seek help for themselves. If you are concerned about a mom you love, don't assume that you should give up if your offer for help is turned away. Use the resources below to get better informed and strategies to support moms who can't yet see that anything can help them.

6. Treatment takes time and may take multiple efforts.

Every human being is biologically unique. There is no one medication, treatment, therapy, or experience that turns depression on or off. Be prepared that recovery can take time and several different strategies. Any person going through this process needs support by people who are well informed and prepared to make sure that giving up is not an option.

7. Helping moms with depression, can have a huge impact on children's lives.

You may have wondered why the "Secrets of Baby Behavior" has a blog post about maternal depression. It is because there is no doubt that maternal depression can have a terrible impact on babies and young children. In homes where trusted and loving adults are supporting moms who are struggling and making sure that babies and young children get the care they need, many of the negative outcomes can be prevented. Helping families in these situations is not easy but the right support can change children's lives.

Special Note to Moms and Friends and Family: There are excellent online resources for anyone seeking more information about maternal depression (see below), but we think it is really important that you talk to a qualified person if you are worried about yourself or someone else who might have depression. Start with your health care provider, a qualified therapist, or a community helpline. If calling one of these resources seems overwhelming (and that is not strange or being weak) ask a trusted friend or family member to do it for you, but you will need to be close by to verify that you are seeking help.

More is known now about depression and other mood disorders than ever before. Reach out, now.

Mayo Clinic - Basic Information

Office of Women's Health - Answers to Questions

Information for Dads and others supporting mothers at risk

Postpartum Support International - dedicated website and helpline

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where is Everybody?

Hello everyone! We've had a string of transitions this summer that have pulled us away from our writing and pushed back our planned reorganization of this blog. JenG has taken a wonderful new job (we miss her!) and we are finishing up some big projects and getting ready to start another one. We've been traveling again and the weeks just keep flying by.  But things are finally settling down and we're looking forward to getting back into sharing information regularly with you very soon.

It is hard to believe that it has been more than 5 years since we started this blog. In the next few weeks, we'll pass 3 million page views. Thank you again to all of you who have shared the URL or a post with others.

If this is your first time to our blog, we encourage you to read the basics on babies cues, crying, and sleep before you move on to other topics by searching the key words down the left side of the page. You can also find our most popular posts by scrolling way down to the bottom of the page.

We hope you are having a great summer!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July

We hope all of our US readers have a wonderful and safe holiday weekend!

Friday, June 27, 2014


Hello Everyone! This is Jen G. I would like to let you know that I will soon be leaving the Human Lactation Center to work at the California Department of Public Health. It has been a pleasure working with and learning from both Jane and Jen B., and I have enjoyed meeting so many of you, our readers, at Baby Behavior trainings across the country. It has been an exciting ride and I look forward to continuing my work with Baby Behavior in California. However, I will miss getting to share research and my personal experiences with you through this blog! Best wishes to the mommies (and daddies) out there trying to better understand their babies and to those that provide Baby Behavior education to parents!

Take care,
Jen G.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

We're 5 Years Old!

The Secrets of Baby Behavior blog is 5 years old! Thank you to our readers for your wonderful support and 2,670,148 page views! There will be a lot of changes in the year ahead. We look forward to sharing them with you.

PS: Don't tell anyone about the cake. After all, we are experts in nutrition....

Friday, June 6, 2014

Summer Travel With Your Baby

Are you getting ready for Summer vacation? Learn about why preparation is the key to a great trip and how paying attention to your baby's cues can result in a happier baby on the road in the posts Summer Travel With Your Baby-Part 1 and Part 2.

Then for 10 tips on how to make traveling with an infant less stressful, click here.

Travelling alone with your baby? Learn how to navigate your adventure by reading 10 Tips for Travelling (on your own) With Your Baby.

Are you visiting friends who don't have a baby? Read Visiting Friends With Baby.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting Ready for Summer With Your Baby!

This week in the Sacramento valley region of California we will be hitting 100 degrees! There is no better time than now to share our Summer safety tips for baby with you! Read about keeping your baby cool and sun safety here. Also, for answers to such questions as "Do babies under 6-months of age need additional water?" and "At what age is it recommended that babies start wearing sunscreen?", check out our Summer Safety Quiz Answers here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Welcome to Our New Readers!

For those of you new to our blog, welcome! This blog is published as a service of the UC Davis Human Lactation Center located in the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis. We would like to tell you how our blog works and where you can find "The Basics" of Baby Behavior, which is a great series of posts to start with if you are new, or if you haven't been around here in a while. You can begin with our overviews on your baby's cues, crying, and sleep patterns.

Everything else we've posted is available to you and there are a few ways you can find what you are looking for.
  • On the left side, in the section titled Blog Archive, you can find links to every blog we've posted (the titles of each blog are listed with the most recent at the top).
  • If you have a specific topic you are interested in, you can use the keyword links, in the Labels section, to find related entries.
  • If you just want to browse full entries, you can use the older posts link at the bottom right of the page. This link will take you through the posts, beginning with the most recent.
We hope that you find the information we've provided useful. We are currently in the process of reorganizing the blog but for now, we hope you can find what you are looking for. If not, just let us know. We love to answer our readers' questions and are always accepting new ideas for future posts!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baby Sign Language/Gesturing and Language Development

A few weeks ago, we asked readers to send us their questions about infant communication. We received some great questions and wanted to get started by answering this one:

Any evidence of using signs increasing or decreasing language development?

As researchers and mothers, we’ve heard a lot about baby signing over the years and like this reader, we’ve wondered, what does the evidence say? While baby signing has become very popular, does scientific research support its use?
The benefits of baby sign language can be a pretty controversial topic. There are many parental reports of great benefits for infants taught baby signs, such as decreased frustration and tantrums, early verbal skills, and improved infant-parent interaction and bonding, just to name a few. However, the scientific research is not as promising. The majority of studies have been small and researchers have been unable to confirm that infant signing benefits babies' language development. Limited research does suggest that babies can learn and use sign language to help them communicate prior to using spoken words, but whether or not this improves their language development is questionable. On the other hand, there is also no research that shows that signing hinders language development. There is also limited evidence showing that baby sign language improves mother-infant interactions. Here is an overview of a few of the recent studies that are out there.

Babies first use gestures (like pointing or reaching) around 10 months of age. By the end of the first year they also use symbolic gestures like pretending to drink from a cup. A study by Kirk, et al (2013) sought to find out if encouraging the early use of these gestures or baby sign language specifically, impacted language development and infant-mother interactions. In this small, well-designed study, gesture training (signs) did not significantly improve language development. There was, however, some effect for males that scored low for expressive communication  (communicating with others either verbally or with gestures) at the beginning of the study; they experienced gains in their expressive communication abilities when exposed to gestures compared to those that were not (though this analysis was only done with 3 infants so it must be interpreted with caution). So what does this mean? These results may indicate that using gesturing or sign in infants who have weak language ability (defined by a lower score on a language assessment)  may improve language development later on.
The second part of this study looked more closely at the interactions between mothers and infants to see if early gesturing or signing improved how mothers related to their babies and understood their behavior. When mothers relate well to their babies and understand their behavior, they have a more secure infant-caregiver attachment and later ability to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. While the study found no significant difference in maternal-infant relatedness between gesture/signing groups and those who did not learn them, there were small positive changes in the mothers’ responsiveness to their infants’ needs and non-verbal cues.

A small study by Gongora & Farkus (2009) showed some improvements in mother-infant interactions, with higher frequencies of visual, tactile (touch) , and vocal mother-infant interactions, when mother-infant pairs were exposed to an infant sign language program.
Vallotten (2012) examined the effects of using signs with infants in a group childcare setting on caregiver responsiveness. The authors found that, at 10 months of age, infants’ use of responsive gestures with their caregivers positively influenced the quality of care they received. They also found that at 15 months the frequency of infant signing slowed, possibly because the infants were speaking more, while variety of signs used increased rapidly. Interestingly, caregivers responded less often as signing variety increased. As variety of signs became more common, their impact on caregiver behavior slowed.

Just as understanding and responding to infant cues can improve infant-caregiver interactions and lead to less parental stress, signing and gesturing may have a similar effect after 8-10 months of age when babies begin gesturing. Studies show that babies can learn and use signs to communicate with their caregivers, and this may improve communication and lessen frustration for both the parent and baby until the baby can talk. However, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to show that baby signing enhances language development or gives babies advanced learning capabilities compared to infants that don’t sign.  Practicing baby sign language can be a great opportunity for parents and infants to bond and interact together. I used a few signs when my daughter was a baby, especially around mealtime, and it added to my understanding of her hunger and fullness cues. Using baby signs has not been shown to be detrimental to infant language development. Research does show that verbally labelling objects can help language comprehension, so while signing be sure to say the word out loud as well. What has been your experience using infant sign language?

Kirk E, Howlett N, Pine KJ, Fletcher BC. To sign or not to sign? The impact of encouraging infants to gesture on infant language and maternal mind-mindedness. Child Dev. 2013;84(2):574-90.
Gongora X, Farkas C. Infant sign language program effects on synchronic mother-infant interactions. Infant Behav Dev. 2009;32(2):216-25.

Vallotten. Do infants influence their quality of care? Infants’ communicative gestures predict caregivers’ responsiveness. Infant Behav Dev. 2009;32:351-365.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Screen-Free Week 2014!

Since it's screen-free week, we would like to encourage you to take a week off from the constant onslaught of media in your life and spend some quality face-to-face time with your kids! For a past post with more information about screen-free week and screen-time recommendations for kids, click here.

To take the 2014 Screen-Free Week pledge, click here.

In the mean time, take a week off from this blog too! We'll be back next week with all new posts on infant communication. Let us know if your family takes the pledge in our comments section. We'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Baby Behavior is on the road again!

This week our whole team made the trip across the United States to the East coast to share Baby Behavior in Maryland and New Hampshire! We'll be back next week with all new posts in our series on infant communication. Have a great week!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Babies' Firsts: First Words

Happy Friday everyone!

I am working on a post about language development, which got me thinking about my daughters' first words. All day I've been trying to remember how old they were when they started talking and what their first words were. Luckily, I documented these types of milestones, so even though it is Friday and my brain is ready for the weekend, I know that Olivia's first word was "Dada" when she was 11 months old and Charlotte said "mama" when she was 10 months old!

Last week we posted the answers to our Infant Communication Quiz, which included a question about the most common first word for babies in the US. According to a study published in 2008, the most common first words are "daddy" and "mommy," so I guess my kids are pretty representative!

So now I am curious about your experience. How old was your baby when he or she said their first word and what did he or she say?

Send us a comment and let us know!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Answers! Infant Communication Quiz

1. What do you think is the most common 1st word said by babies in the United States?
Answer: Daddy. According to a 2008 study, the most common 1st words said by a group of 264 English-speaking babies in the United States was "Daddy", followed closely by "Mommy", and then "BaaBaa", "Bye" and "Hi."

2. At what age do babies start babbling (experimenting with sounds but not saying any discernable words)?
Answer: Around 6-months of age. First communication starts with your baby's coos around 1-2 months followed by babbling at about 6-months. These patterns of learning language are predictable and universal.

3. On average, at what age do babies speak their 1st words?
Answer: Around 13-months. This is followed by a rapid expansion of your baby's vocabulary around 18-months.

4. True or False. You can help early vocabulary development by labelling specific objects for your baby, i.e "that is a block!"
Answer: True! Attaching a word to a specific object can help infants learn new vocabulary. Describing what you or your child is doing as it happens is also helpful.

5. True or False. Focusing on motor development, like learning to crawl or walk, can temporarily take your baby’s focus away from learning to speak.
Answer: True! Though this effect is brief, if your baby is intent on learning to walk, he may be so focused on that skill that he isn't as intent on learning new words. As soon as he masters walking though, he'll be back to learning to speak.

6. At what age do babies start recognizing words for common items?
Answer: Between 7-12 months. Sometime around 7-12 months your baby will begin to recognize common words such as "cup", "milk" or "shoe."

7. At what age is your baby able to follow directions?
Answer: Between 18-months and 2 years. At this age you can begin to ask your child to help you with simple tasks like bringing you her cup or picking up her shoe.

References (by question number):

1: Tardif T, Fletcher P, Liang W, Zhang Z, Kaciroti N, Marchman V. Baby's First 10 Words. Developmental Psychology. 2008;44(4): 929-938.
2, 3, 4 & 5: Kopko K. Research Sheds Light on How Babies Learn and Develop Language. Accessed 4/9/14 at:
6: Birth to 1 Year: What should my child be able to do? Accessed 4/9/14 at:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quiz: Infant Communication

A few weeks back we mentioned that we will begin a new series on communication with words. We asked you, our readers, for some ideas of what you would like to know more about regarding this subject and got some great responses. We'd like to start this series with a quiz about infant communication. So, let's see how much you already know!
  1. What do you think is the most common 1st word said by babies in the United States?
  2. At what age do babies start babbling?
  3. On average, at what age do babies speak their 1st words?
  4. True or False. Early vocabulary development is stimulated when parents label specific objects for their babies. i.e "that is a block!"
  5. True or False. Focusing on motor development, like learning to crawl or walk, can temporarily take your baby’s focus away from learning to speak.
  6. At what age do babies start recognizing words for common items?
  7. At what age is your baby able to follow directions?
Get your answers ready! We'll share the answers we found at the end of the week.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blog Remodel - We need your advice!

We are quickly approaching our blog's 5th birthday! Over the years, we've worked really hard to provide our readers with evidence-based information about Baby Behavior in a way that is practical and realistic for busy (and tired and maybe even overwhelmed) new parents. You may have noticed, however, that we tend to focus on content over design. Sure, we include adorable pictures with each blog post, but we haven't made many changes to the structure or features of the site since it was first created. Well, that's about to change!

Over the next several months, we'd like to revamp our site, giving it a new style and, more importantly, making it easier to use. For example, we plan to reorganize the keywords section and make it easier to navigate through previous posts to find what you need (no small task given that we have 433 posts).

Before we begin, we want to get your suggestions. What features would you like to see on our site? What suggestions do you have for the layout or design? Is there something we haven't written about that you are interested in? Please send us your ideas in the comments section below.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Maternal Depression and Infant Sleep

With 14% of postpartum women in the US screening positive for depression, according to a 2013 study, it’s important to understand how depression affects infant sleep and how infant sleep (or lack of maternal sleep) affects depressed mothers and their babies.

We all know that night waking with an infant and nighttime parenting are stressful, both physically and mentally. But for depressed mothers, how is it different?
The authors of a recent study proposed 2 potential explanations for how nighttime infant behaviors and depressed mood of mothers are related.  It’s a question of what comes first. Does the infant’s night waking lead to more maternal involvement at night and thus sleep loss predisposing the mother to depressive symptoms? Or do the mothers’ elevated symptoms of depression predict more involvement with the infant during the nighttime, even without infant distress, and does that cause increased night waking? Let’s take a closer look at the study to see how these questions were answered.

The Study
Depressive symptoms were measured in 45 mothers of infants between 1-24 months of age. The mothers kept diaries about their infant’s sleep (i.e. sleep location, number and duration of night wakings) for 7 days. Also, a video of bedtime/nighttime interactions for 1 night and a survey of maternal thoughts/reactions to infant night waking (such as “It is all right to allow my child to cry at night” and “I am able to resist my child’s demands when he/she wakes at night”) were collected.

Key Findings
  • Depressed mothers had infants with more night waking.
  • Mothers who were more worried about their infants’ nighttime needs had babies that   woke more at night.
  • Depressed mothers reported more thoughts of helplessness around infant night waking.
  • Depressed mothers were more worried about their infants’ physical/emotional needs at night.
  • Mothers’ thoughts of helplessness/loss of control around night waking were not associated with infant night waking.
  • Depressed mothers spent more time with their infants during the night.
  • Mothers who were worried about their infants’ physical/emotional needs at night were also more likely to spend more time with their infants at night.

The authors concluded the following: The more depressed feelings a mother had, the more time she spent with her baby at night, and the more time she spent with her baby at night, the more night waking her baby had. Also, the more a mother worries about her baby at night, the more time she spends near her baby, and the more time she spends near her baby, the more times her baby wakes up. That’s a mouthful! Before we clarify what all this means, let’s take a look at a few other findings of this study.
  • 88% of moms engaged in calming bedtime routines
  • Moms with more depressive symptoms participated in less bedtime routines
  • Moms with more depressive symptoms responded more quickly to infant vocalization, some even woke up the babies to check on them
  • Moms with more depressive symptoms set less limits at bedtime & during the night

That’s a lot of information to process! So, what’s the bottom line? Maternal depressive symptoms and infant night waking are linked. However, because of the type of study, we can’t positively say that the mother’s depressive symptoms caused the infant night waking, or vice versa.  We just know that certain behaviors are associated with another behavior. Maternal worries about the nighttime needs of her infant are also linked to infant night waking. Depressed moms were more likely to be hyper responsive to infant nighttime needs, to the point of waking their sleeping infant and were more likely to have an unstructured bedtime. Now if you’ve been following our blog, you know that following a regular calming bedtime routine can lead to less night waking! So, if depressed mothers are more likely to have infants who wake more and are less likely to use bedtime routines, there could be a connection.

Now here’s another baby behavior connection. The authors recommended parenting education on reasons for nighttime crying to reduce maternal stress about nighttime parenting. It’s possible that information about normal infant sleep patterns would also reduce stress at nighttime. The authors believe mother-driven influences are at work from what they observed in the study. Though it can’t be ruled out that the infant night waking actually predisposed the mothers to spend more time with their infants at night, which in turn caused depressed feelings or excess worry about infant nighttime needs.

It’s important to note that this study was done with a relatively low-risk sample of mothers, not with mothers with severe or clinical depression. If you have depression and are a new mom, or if you know someone in this situation, understanding about normal infant sleep and crying may be helpful to alleviate some of the stress around nighttime parenting. Here are some links to the basics about infant sleep and crying.
Crying Basics
Sleep Basics
Top 5 Sleep Posts

Also, if you or someone you know is depressed, please see a doctor, or encourage them to see one. There are many effective treatments for depression that can help.  For more information about postpartum depression, click here.

Teti DM, Crosby B. Maternal Depressive Symptoms, Dysfunctional Cognitions, and Infant Night Wakin: The Role of Maternal Nighttime Behavior. Child Development. 2012;83(3):939-953.

Wisner et al. Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70 (5):490-8.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break!

It's Spring Break! We hope everyone is enjoying the warmer weather and we will be back next week!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Baby Behavior in the News: Safety of Infant Sleep Machines

If you’ve been a long time reader or have had the chance to browse through our previous posts, you know that we've posted a lot on infant sleep over the years. We know from experience that one of the hardest parts of being a new parent is adjusting to the lack of sleep that comes with caring for such a tiny baby. In the past, we've explained why babies don’t sleep through the night (see Baby Behavior Basics Part 1), how babies sleep at different ages and the difference between falling asleep and staying asleep  (see The Science of Infant Sleep Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and we’ve provided tips for sleep deprived parents (see Dealing Realistically with Postpartum Sleep Deprivation Part I and Part 2.

As we’ve discussed infant sleep and parental fatigue, both in person at speaking engagements and with readers of this blog,  we’ve gotten a lot of questions about the use of noise machines to help babies sleep better.  While we understand the concept (white noise is repetitive stimulation, which we know calms babies), there are a few reasons we’ve been careful not to recommend use of these machines for babies. First, we know that babies, especially young babies, need to wake often (see Baby Behavior Basics Part 1) and second, we didn’t know much about the safety of these machines for use with babies.  So, when a recently published study about the safety of infant sleep machines showed up in the news, it caught our eye.

The authors evaluated 14 machines that are widely available in the US and Canada. Each machine played a range of 1 to 10 different sounds, including nature noises (for example, wind, water, birds, etc) white noise, mechanical sounds (traffic, trains, etc) and heartbeat sounds. During the measurements, the authors tried to recreate the experience of using these machines in real life. They used a microphone set-up to mimic an infant’s ear and measured the sound level at 3 different distances,  30 cm (~11.8 inches) similar to crib rail placement), 100 cm (~ 3 feet) to replicate placement on a table near the crib, and 200 cm (~6.5 feet) to represent a machine placed across the room.
Not surprisingly, the closer the machine was to the microphone, the louder the measurement. At the crib rail and bedside table positions, all 14 machines exceeded the recommended levels for hospital nurseries. Three of the machines were so loud that they would be considered dangerous for adults when exposed for 8 hours (like overnight, for example). Even when placed across the room, 13 of the 14 measured louder than recommended.

Like usual, the authors state that more research is needed. They did not collect information about how these machines are usually used in real life, so this study does not provide information about where parents usually place the machines, how long they typically stay on, or which volume setting is used most (they measured at the loudest setting).  However, they point out that all of these machines are easily available for purchase with very little instruction for use or safety information and that there is clear evidence that inappropriate noise exposure can change infants’ heart rates, disrupt sleep quality and duration, and even lead to hearing loss.

The authors suggest that policy makers require more oversight for these machines, including limits on volume levels, better labeling and instructions for use, and requiring automatic timers to shut the machines off and prevent overuse.  For parents who are using these machines, they recommend placing the machine as far away from the baby as possible, setting the volume as low as possible, and limiting use by using automatic time shut-off or turning the machine off once the baby falls asleep. 

Reference: Hugh, Sarah C et al. Infant Sleep Machines and Hazardous Sleep Pressure Levels. Pediatrics Volume 133, Number 4, April 2014. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Infant Communication: Learning in the Womb

Over the next few months we will introduce several posts about communication. Today’s post will focus on communication between caregiver and baby while baby is still in the womb.

Babies can hear and respond to sound prenatally and can even develop a preference to a particular sound, voice, or song after repeated exposure. Several studies have been conducted trying to explain how babies and caregivers begin their first communication. Although there is still a lot that is not known, and more research is needed, we’ve learned some interesting details that shed light on prenatal language acquisition.

·         Familiar rhymes are calming: One study measured changes in fetal heart rate in response to a rhyme that the mother recited during weeks 33-37 of pregnancy. When a recording of the rhyme was played at 37 weeks there was a noticeable decrease in the baby’s heart rate. There was no change in the baby’s heart rate when a different rhyme was introduced, indicating that a familiar rhyme was calming to the unborn baby.

·         Infants “recognized” stories heard in the womb: In a separate study, a 3-minute passage was read out loud twice per day for the last 6-weeks of pregnancy. After the babies were born the familiar passage and an unfamiliar passage were played for the baby. Infants preferred the recording of the story heard in the womb more frequently than the unfamiliar story. No preference was seen in a control group of infants not exposed to any story prenatally. From this study, authors concluded that babies do remember stories they heard while they were in the womb.

·         Listening to a familiar song changed babies’ states: A study of 2-4 day old babies monitored the infants as they listened to the theme song of a soap opera that their mothers reported watching prenatally. Compared to infants who were not exposed to the theme songs prenatally, infants who were exposed experienced a lower heart rate, a decrease in movements and transitioned to a more alert state while listening to the songs.

This information doesn’t tell us anything about the long-term effects of the sounds babies hear before they are born, but there is evidence that reading, singing, or playing music for your baby while you are pregnant can be calming both before and after birth.  Authors, however, warn against outside devises such as putting headphones close to the your pregnant belly, because it may effect  auditory development and interfere with behavioral state regulation.

Did you have an experience where your infant recognized a voice, song or story that they heard while you were pregnant? We’d love to hear your stories!

Reference: Moon CM, Fifer WP. Evidence of transnatal auditory learning. J Perinatol. 2000;S37-44.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Series: Communicating with Words

It's hard to believe it's been nearly 5 years since our first blog post! As we approach our anniversary, we've been looking through old posts, brainstorming ideas for new topics, and planning some exciting changes to our site (more on that later...). We've noticed that we've had only a few sporadic posts on language development, so starting soon we'll have a series of posts all about how babies learn to communicate using words. We have some ideas already, but we want to hear from you. What questions do you have about language development? Send us a comment with your questions or topic ideas and we'll work to put together a series that best meets our readers' needs! And, in the meantime,  you can use the following links to access previous posts on the subject!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Good news! Preschoolers are less likely to be overweight!

Earlier this week,  a paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reporting the prevelence of obesity in the United States from 2011-2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects information from people all over the country and reports their findings every other year. These data are widely used in everything from news stories to policy documents to grant proposals. If you've ever heard someone say "In the United States, one-third of all adults are overweight or obese" chances are she was referring to these data.

In this most recent report, there was some exciting news! Although obesity rates didn't change much in most of the age groups, there was a significant decrease in the number of preschool-aged children who were classifed as overweight, from nearly 14% in 2003-2004 to 8.4% in 2011-2012.

There is so much work going into the prevention of childhood obesity at local, state, and national levels and this report shows that these efforts are having an impact. While nearly 10% obesity  among preschool children is far from desirable, it is good news that we are finally reversing course on such a challenging and devastating public health issue.

Reference: Ogden CL et al. Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA. 2014; 311: 806-814.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Welcome New Readers!

For those of you new to our blog, welcome! We would like to tell you how our blog works and where you can find "The Basics" of Baby Behavior, which is a great series of posts to start with if you are new, or if you haven't been around here in a while. You can begin with our overviews on your baby's cues, crying, and sleep patterns.
Everything else we've posted is available to you and there are a few ways you can find what you are looking for.
  • On the left side, in the section titled Blog Archive, you can find links to every blog we've posted (the titles of each blog are listed with the most recent at the top).
  • If you have a specific topic you are interested in, you can use the keyword links, in the Labels section, to find related entries.
  • If you just want to browse full entries, you can use the older posts link at the bottom right of the page. This link will take you through the posts, beginning with the most recent.
We hope that you find the information we've provided useful. If you don't find what you are looking for or if you have any questions, please send us a comment. We love to answer our readers' questions and are always accepting new ideas for future posts!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In the News: Graco Carseat Recall

We thought it was important to bring to your attention a very large recent recall of Graco brand car seats. About 3.7 million child care seats have been recalled because the harness buckle can get stuck and children can become trapped. This includes 11 models sold from 2009-2013.

What seems to be happening is that food and drink spillage are causing stickiness in the harness buckle causing it to get stuck. Parents should check the buckle and make sure it is clean; then contact the company for a replacement buckle. The company is urging parents to use a different car seat until a new buckle is received.

For the company's full press release, which models are involved, how to clean car seat buckles and how to order a replacement, click here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

We're busy training a new batch of Baby Behavior experts in Sacramento, CA. What an exciting week!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Maternal Stress: How Does it Effect Baby's Stress Level?

Have you ever been around a person who is very stressed and found yourself tensed up after spending time with them? There is actually a scientific reason for these feelings. Scientists in the past have found that a person’s physiology actually changes after interacting or observing the stress of another person.  But what about your baby? Can he or she sense your stress level? A recent study was conducted to determine if infants “caught” the stress of their mothers. After inducing a stressful state in the mothers, researchers reunited the mothers and babies to see if the mothers’ stress changed the babies’ physiology. They also compared how a positive versus negative stressful arousal of the mothers affected the babies. Let’s look a bit closer at the study details.

Sixty-nine mothers of babies 12-14 months of age participated in the study. Researchers separated the mothers and babies and put the mothers through a stressful interview-type situation. Evaluators then gave either positive, negative, or no feedback to the mothers. Obviously, the mothers who received negative feedback experienced more stress and an increased heart rate. After the stressful experience, mothers were reunited with their babies. Soon after the babies’ heart rates were found to increase, as if they caught on that their mothers were stressed. The greater the mother’s stress response, the greater the baby’s; if the mother was exposed to a negative stress, there was an even bigger impact on her infant’s physiology.
While the authors admit that there is more research needed to figure out how this happens, the results are interesting. They hypothesize that babies may track their mothers’ emotions through changes in her smell, facial expression, or the tension in her voice. What do you think of this study? Have you noticed your baby picking up on the tension in your body? How does that affect your baby’s behavior?


Waters SF, West TV, Mendes WB. Stress Contagion: Physiological Covariation Between Mothers and Infants. Psychol Sci. 2014 Jan 30. [Epub ahead of print]

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Question for Our Readers: Child Care and Baby Behavior

We’ve spent the last week sharing information about child care and finding the right fit for your baby (see part 1 here and part 2 here). Once you do find the right child care setting, how do you share information about your baby’s behavior with new caregivers of your baby? What’s challenging about it? Or, how has information about baby behavior helped a caregiver understand your baby better? We would love to hear your experiences so that we can share them with other parents!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Child Care: Finding the Right Fit for Your Baby – Part 2

Today, in part 2 of our series on child care (to read part 1 click here), we’ll share some important questions to ask when researching child care programs.  Choosing a child care program is an important decision that will shape your child’s development. We’ve talked in the past about positive caregiver-infant interactions, and this is not only important for parents, but for other caregivers taking care of your baby on a regular basis. In another past post we shared tips for choosing a childcare provider (LINK), and now we’ll share some more specific questions to ask. The best way to answer many of the questions below is by observing the child care setting itself. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Are you welcome to drop in at any time?
  • Do caregivers talk to the infants? Do they sing and read to them?
  • Are caregivers flexible enough to help with adapting your baby's feeding and sleeping schedule to their own, or to find a compromise? Can you find out these schedules before your baby starts child care so that you can begin transitioning your baby?
  • Are caregivers patient with babies’ needs?
  • Are the babies’ needs met in a timely manner?
  • Do the caregiver’s feeding style and beliefs match your own?
  • Is the caregiver flexible enough to let you provide input on your baby's naptime routine?
  • Does the caregiver seem to enjoy working with children?
  • Would you feel good about leaving your child there?
  • What training do caregivers have in infant development?
  • Do caregivers watch for and feed babies based on hunger and fullness cues or on a tight schedule?
  • Are babies fed by a caregiver or left to drink a bottle alone?
  • Does the caregiver make eye contact with the babies? Do they hug and cuddle them?
  • What does the caregiver do when a baby cries?
We hope you’ve found these questions useful! Next time we’ll explore more about the transition from home to child care.
For other questions to ask when choosing child care that we gathered in a past post, click here.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Child Care: Finding the Right Fit for Your Baby – Part 1

Today we’ll be starting a series on child care about finding the right fit for your baby and easing the transition from home to the child care setting.  First, we’d like to share some tips on matching your baby’s specific temperament to the right type of child care. This information is based on the handout “Matching Your Infant’s or Toddler’s Style to the Right Child Care Setting” by Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization focused on early child development. We spend a lot of time finding the right caregiver for our babies, but do we think about what setting is the best fit for their personalities? While we realize that your choices may be limited for child care options, especially if you live in a small town, here are a few things to consider about your baby’s temperament when choosing child care.

  • Personal Style: How would you describe your baby? Is she adaptable/flexible, cautious or intense? If your baby is adaptable, she will probably do well in a large group setting with lots of social interaction. If your baby is more cautious, look for a smaller group setting that’s less stimulating. And if your baby is very intense in her emotions, whether the setting is large or small, make sure she has a primary caregiver that will get to know and understand her specific needs (of course, this is best for all babies!

  • Sleep needs: Does the setting allow individual schedules, separate sleep areas, and a quiet sleep environment? Since in reality this is not always possible in large centers, it’s important to find out if the provider will work with you to facilitate ease of transition in your baby’s sleep patterns. Find out ahead of time what the center sleep schedule is and you can gradually transition your baby closer to their schedule.

  • Social vs. slow to warm up babies: If your baby is very social she’ll do great in a group setting that allows her many opportunities to play with others. On the other hand, if your baby likes to take it slower and tends to be shy around strangers, find a setting that allows your child to gradually transition from alone play to playing with one other child or a small group as she warms up. Responsive caregivers will be sensitive to your baby’s temperament and support her in slowly warming up to her new environment.

  • Tolerance to change: If your baby is sensitive to changes and challenges, a setting with children the same age as her will be more comfortable.  A baby that adapts more easily to change will do well in either a mixed-age or same-age setting.

We realize that you may not always have a choice as to what type of child care setting you choose. You may live in an area with only large centers, or you may live in a rural area with no large centers. Either way, it’s important to consider your baby’s personality when choosing a caregiver and child care setting and find the best fit that’s feasible for your family.
No matter what your baby’s temperament, it’s important to find a caregiver that is willing to adapt his or her approach to meet your child’s needs.  Responsive caregivers treat each child as unique. While all babies show similar cues, they each have individual temperaments and personalities. For more information about temperament read these posts:

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

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

Next time we’ll cover important questions to ask when researching childcare programs.


Matching Your Infant’s or Toddler’s Style to the Right Child Care Setting” by Zero to Three.