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

Fascinating Baby Behaviors

Why Do Babies Love Mirrors?

Do they know they're seeing themselves? When babies look in the mirror, initially they're unaware that the face in the glass is theirs, but they're still captivated. Babies are inherently interested in human faces -- and seem particularly drawn to those that are close in size to their own, says Dr. Shu. Studies suggest babies begin to recognize themselves about midway through their second year. In one famous British experiment, researchers asked mothers to play with their babies, age 9 to 24 months, in front of a mirror. The mothers then pretended to wipe dirt off their child's face but instead dabbed rouge on their nose. The babies younger than 15 months made no attempt to touch their own red nose (though some swatted at their nose's reflection), while nearly all of those 21 months and older touched the rouge.

Why Do Babies Love to Be Rocked?

Most babies love to be rocked, swayed, and danced in circles -- in a way that would make many adults motion sick! Like their fondness for white noise, this could be a holdover from the days in utero, suggests Dr. Shu, where for nine months babies float in a fluid environment. "Think of how weird it feels after you've been on a boat and you step off onto solid ground," she says, adding it may feel similarly strange for infants who find themselves suddenly lying in a static bassinet. Rocking or swaying while holding your baby may bring back for her the comforting rhythm of the womb.

Why Do Some Babies Bang Their Head?

While this behavior is understandably disconcerting for parents, some 20 percent of babies and toddlers bang their head. For reasons unknown, it's three times more common in boys than girls. Some babies may bang their head out of frustration and an inability to express themselves, says Dr. Shu. For these children, it may help to try to put their emotions into words for them: "I know you're mad because you want that cookie now and don't want to wait until after dinner." Hearing that you understand may defuse the tantrum, suggests Dr. Shu.

Other babies seem to do this as a self-soothing technique, rhythmically rocking and banging as they try to calm down or fall asleep. They may do it more frequently when they're teething or have an ear infection, notes Dr. Shu, perhaps to distract themselves from their discomfort. Still others may bang their head to elicit a reaction. "It gets them attention, even if it's not good attention," says Dr. Shu. For this reason, it's usually best to ignore head-banging, since any response will only reinforce the behavior, she says. Just be sure your child is in a safe place where he can't bang his head against sharp, breakable, or unstable surfaces. Though head-banging looks dangerous, your baby generally won't knock his noggin hard enough to hurt himself, assures Dr. Shu.

Why Party All Night and Sleep All Day?

The most common theory is that this pattern is established in the womb, when Mom's daytime comings and goings rocked and lulled baby to sleep, leaving him plenty of energy for midnight somersaulting. This routine may continue after birth, with baby catching plenty of shut-eye in the car or stroller, then clamoring for playtime at 2 a.m. Since your baby has no inherent way of discerning day from night, provide plenty of cues, says Dr. Borgenicht. When the sun's up, open the shades, turn on the lights and music, and try to keep baby actively engaged for substantial stretches of time, he advises. In the evening, dim the lights and limit stimulating sights and sounds. During middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes, keep the room dark and the chatter to a minimum. If you're consistent, your baby will soon get the message that daytime is for playing and nighttime is for sleeping, says Dr. Borgenicht.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2006.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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