Why Are Babies So Cute? (And Other Burning Newborn Questions!)

They baffle, surprise, and enchant us. Here's a guide to newborns.

Amazing Babies

mom burping newborn baby on her shoulder

From the moment they enter the world -- with their pickled skin, blinking eyes, and pay-attention-to-me cries -- babies mesmerize and mystify us. We watch, amazed, as they grow from helpless newborns, driven by instinct and reflexes, into determined toddlers with impressive wills and skills. This inevitable, incredible metamorphosis, both awesome and curious to witness, can have parents regularly scratching their heads and wondering, Is that normal? The answer, almost always, is yes. Listen in as three top pediatricians explain some of the puzzling things babies do.

Why Do Babies Look So Cute?

Scientists say that adults are evolutionarily programmed to find babies cute -- nature's way of ensuring that we care for them through sleepless nights and bouts of colic. But just what do we find so attractive? It's the eyes, mainly. Research has shown that adults prefer faces with larger eyes over faces with smaller eyes. And babies have disproportionately large eyes for their head: in fact, by 3 months, babies' eyes have reached their full adult width -- and may look huge until the rest of their features catch up. Other traits almost universally perceived as cute include a large, symmetrical head and a small nose and mouth. It's what makes us "ooh" and "aah" over all young creatures with improbably big peepers peering out from big round faces, whether they're puppies, kittens, or, especially, babies.

Why Do Babies Smile So Much?

Most parents won't witness their baby's first smile for 8 to 12 weeks. But usually by the third month, most babies will flash their first grin -- and melt their parents' hearts. These earliest smiles are probably unintentional facial movements, but our gushing responses to them virtually ensure we'll see more of the same. For the preverbal infant, smiling provides a means to communicate: when your baby smiles and you smile back, you're practicing the same type of back-and-forth exchange that happens later with language. From about 4 to 6 months, babies will smile at nearly everyone they encounter. But after that, many babies begin to develop stranger anxiety and will smile more discriminately, reserving their biggest crinkle-eyed, raised-cheek smiles for their parents and other loved ones, while greeting strangers with a more tentative, low-key smile, if any. But the wonderful thing about all babies' smiles -- big or small -- is that they're invariably genuine. Whereas adults may smile to be polite, when babies smile, they're happy.

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