As a baby, my son, Darren, perspired while he slept. A lot. If he fell asleep in the car, I would sometimes pull over to dab at the moisture along his hairline. At first, I blamed the heat and humidity -- but he'd wake up with wet hair even in his air-conditioned bedroom.
Fearing the worst, I took him to the doctor. Turns out, the perspiration wasn't a big deal, since many infants sweat while they sleep. Babies have lots of other bizarre bedtime behaviors that can unnerve you. To ease your mind, we talked to experts about when the habits are harmless.
Seeing your baby hit his head against the crib mattress or rails as he's dozing off can certainly be unsettling. Fortunately, it's usually normal. Up to 20 percent of children are head-bangers, and boys are much more likely to do it than girls. It typically starts at around 6 months and slows or stops by age 3. The exact reason for head banging is unknown, but experts generally believe that it's a way to self-soothe. "In utero, a fetus is constantly being jostled to and fro, so a baby may be soothed by the rocking motion of head banging," says Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., a pediatric psychologist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. It also may be done to distract from teething or earache pain.
Understandably, you may fear that your baby's habit could cause headaches, bruises, or even brain injury. Not likely. His noggin is tough, and if the banging becomes too painful, he'll stop on his own. So there's no need to pad the crib with bumpers or pillows -- after all, placing soft items in the crib increases risk of suffocation and SIDS.
Don't be surprised if your sleeping baby sometimes kicks her legs and punches her arms. She's not having a nightmare. "Babies have a very immature nervous system, and it's hard for them to control their reflexes and responses to environmental stimuli such as noise and temperature," says Kenneth Wible, M.D., a pediatrician with Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, in Kansas City, Missouri. This means that those erratic movements are involuntary and usually harmless. To be sure, take your fingers and lightly hold down the arm or leg that's twitching. If the movement stops, no problem. But if it doesn't, if it occurs while your baby is awake, or if she has whole-body spasms, you should seek further evaluation, including a screening for epilepsy. Twitching that's not caused by a neurological disorder usually decreases between ages 2 and 4 months.