Answers to All Your Funny Questions About Your Newborn

Does my baby know me? Do they dream? Do they love me? Are they happy? We found the answers to all the stuff you wonder about during middle-of-the-night feedings.

Newborn baby feet

Newborns are fascinating, mysterious creatures. And as new parents, you've likely got lots of questions about what your baby is doing, thinking, and feeling. You're not alone if you aren't always sure. If only your baby could talk!

Don't worry or feel like you should already know everything about your newborn. Parenting has a steep learning curve—and your baby is learning right along with you. It's very normal for parents to wonder about things like what's on their baby's mind, what they dream about, why they're making those strange noises, or why their fingernails seem to grow so fast. Here are answers to some of the funny questions you might have about your sweet little newborn.

What Do Babies Think About?

A hundred years ago, psychologists described babies' brains as "a buzzing confusion," but today's experts are more charitable. The current consensus is that infants are thinking all the time, busy trying to make sense of the world around them from the moment they emerge from the womb.

"Babies are little experimenters," says Susan Hespos, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. "They gather information about their environment and are phenomenal at picking up patterns."

Researchers like Dr. Hespos study babies' thought processes by measuring how long they look at events unfolding before them. They have found that you can hold a baby's attention for a significantly longer period if you do something unexpected. For example, if you dangle a box by a string so that it magically "floats," as opposed to placing it on a shelf as you've done before, a baby is likely to be more engaged.

"Babies aren't concerned with earth-shattering philosophical questions, but they are thinking a lot about how objects behave and interact," says Dr. Hespos.

Can Babies Tell the Difference Between Their Caregivers?

Babies as young as 3 months old are able to distinguish between photos of adult male and female faces, says Paul C. Quinn, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Delaware, in Newark. His studies suggest that infants do favor one adult over the other—namely, the person who's their primary caregiver. "What's interesting is that the preference for one gender over the other appears to be learned from experience—it's not preprogrammed," says Dr. Quinn.

Why Do My Baby's Fingernails Grow So Quickly?

The fact is, everything about your baby is growing rapidly. After all, by the 5-month mark, most babies will have doubled their birth weight. Their whole body is growing at a rapid pace, but you'll notice the growth of their nails most easily.

"You can't see the organs or the brain growing, but having to trim those little fingernails is a reassuring sign of good growth," says Margaret Hostetter, M.D., chair of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.

Does My Baby Know Their Name?

When your little one reaches 5 or 6 months, they should consistently respond to their name. Until then, it may seem like they perk up whenever you call them, but they're probably not really picking up on their name, just the sound of you talking.

"By 2 to 3 months, your baby is responding to your face and your voice—not necessarily your words," says Dr. Hostetter. "Within the next few months, your baby will turn to your voice. By the middle of his first year, he'll be able to distinguish the syllables of his name, although he won't yet understand what it means."

What Do Babies Dream About?

We may never know for sure. Dream researchers depend on study volunteers to tell them if, when, and what they dream—and babies aren't quite up to that task. We do know, however, that adult dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and that infants spend 50% of their snooze time in REM, which is almost twice as much time as adults spend. So, it would be a logical assumption that babies do dream and that it has something to do with their brain development since they spend so much time in this stage of sleep.

But it's hard to imagine the landscape of your baby's dream world since they don't have language or clear concepts of people and things. Chances are they aren't having nightmares, though, since they probably don't grasp the meaning of fear yet. Experts suspect bad dreams don't happen until kids reach the age of 2 or 3 when they have a better notion of being afraid and an active imagination that can conjure up scary things like monsters.

Why Does My Newborns Get Hiccups So Often?

Hiccups happen when the diaphragm, the respiratory muscle at the base of the chest, gets irritated and spasms. Since a baby's stomach and torso are small, it doesn't take much to fill their tummy to the brim and push it up into the diaphragm. "We like to see kids get hiccups," says Mark Widome, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Penn State Children's Hospital, in Hershey. "It means they're well fed."

Does My Baby Think Something Is Funny When They Laugh?

Developmental psychologists are split over the question of whether or not babies understand humor. Some claim that babies are born with the ability to feel and express basic emotions like happiness, while others argue that infants learn to identify and communicate different feelings only through experiences with other humans.

But they all agree that your newborn doesn't get the punch line of your hilarious jokes. In fact, they probably aren't even aware that they find something you said or did funny. But that doesn't make their giggles any less precious.

"When a baby laughs, it's a positive thing—she's enjoying herself," says Dr. Widome. Your baby's first laugh, which typically trills out before they're 4 months, is a sign of socialization—they're picking up on the sounds and expressions you make when the two of you are having fun.

Does My Baby Sweat?

Babies are born with sweat glands, and they perspire to bring their body temperature down when they get overheated, as adults do. Unlike adult sweat, however, baby perspiration isn't stinky. "The apocrine glands, which are linked to body odor and clustered in the underarm, nipple, and groin, don't turn on until puberty," explains Dee Anna Glaser, M.D., vice chairman of the department of dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Why Does My Baby Make Funny Sounds Without Opening Their Mouth?

Don't worry, your little one isn't destined for a career as a ventriloquist. "Young babies automatically experiment with their voice box," explains Dr. Widome. "In adults, the vocal cords and lips are working together to form words, but a baby isn't following these rules." Babies don't yet have the motor skills to coordinate sound with lip movement.

"Before 6 months, an American, Chinese, and French baby will all make the same spontaneous, universal sounds," says Dr. Widome. "After 6 months, imitation takes off, and babies from different countries will begin to move toward language-specific mouth movements and sounds."

Did My Baby Love Me Right Away?

We wish we could tell you that the fierce, amazing love you feel for your precious newborn was mutual from the start, but that wouldn't be entirely honest. Rather, in the early weeks, your baby may view you as an extension of themselves. The thing is, your baby does not have the emotional understanding, life experience, or self-awareness you have, so by necessity, "love" means something very different to each of you.

Not only can you put your strong feelings into words, but you also go out of your way to show your baby how much you care—picking them up when they're upset and feeding them when they're hungry. Your baby's tokens of affection are naturally more limited. When a baby bonds to their parent, they can't clearly express it, says Dr. Hostetter. But rest assured, you are the center of their universe, she adds.

In fact, according to Dr. Hostetter, from very early on, babies will turn their heads when their caregivers speak, even when there are several other voices in the room. In addition to recognizing their parents' voices, babies can distinguish their unique smell and methods of soothing. So, yes, your baby loves you—and that attachment will only grow.

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