You probably learned the signs (and sounds) of an unhappy newborn early on. But the signs of happiness can be more mystifying. Baby doesn't even hit the first true happiness milestone, smiling, until after the first month! Here's how to tell if your tyke is feeling fine.
The sight of your face and the sound of your voice soothe your new baby. It can be frustrating when you smile and coo and him and are met with a blank, drowsy stare, but that's a good sign! "At this point babies don't have the capacity to express positive emotions other than by looking peaceful," says Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., cofounder of Baby Signs, Inc. "They either cry or don't cry." When he turns toward you and gazes at your face, he's saying, Life is good.
When your baby conforms her body to your arms and doesn't arch her back, it's a sign that she's comfortable. At this age, she's happy when you meet her basic needs: You respond to her cries, feed her, change her diapers, and lull her to sleep. Liz Matheis, of Parsippany, New Jersey, says that before her daughter, Abby, first smiled, "I called her my 'grouchy old woman.' But I knew she was happy because she snuggled in my arms and fell asleep."
"Somewhere between 4 and 10 weeks of life, babies start to smile spontaneously rather than reflexively," says Carey Chronic, M.D., a pediatrician in Ventura, California. Before now, your baby's smile came from an internal comfort, like passing gas, or as a reflex (ever seen your baby smile in her sleep?). But now, "they smile in direct reaction to something someone has done with them," Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., cofounder of Baby Signs, Inc. says.
Things get more exciting in Babyland as smiles graduate to laughter. What gets babies going? Quality bonding with you! They're thrilled by funny noises and touches, as Kayta Rose Norris, from American Baby's Facebook page, has discovered. "My daughter loves when we nibble on her legs while making mmm noises." At around 6 months, the element of surprise becomes a big hit. "They get tickled by having their expectations upended," Acredolo says, like in a good old-fashioned game of peekaboo. Gets 'em every time!
At first, "speech" is a series of consonant sounds strung together. Really informative, right? Actually, yes! Babies pick up these sounds (and along with them, your intonation) from listening to you. Now they can communicate their emotions vocally. "When babies babble in a higher and higher pitch, they're showing interest in something or pleasure in their interaction with you," says Athena Vouloumanos, principal investigator in the Infant Cognition and Communication Lab at New York University.
Around the 1-year mark, kids gain a sense of humor. In an effort to make you laugh, they might put a diaper on their head or talk into their sippy cup."The research on the development of humor in kids shows that doing silly things with objects is, in general, a source of hilarity. Daddy trying to put the baby's shoes on his own feet -- that's really funny!" Acredolo says.
Originally published in American Baby magazine.