As the father of a 5-month-old, I can't help but wonder what my son will be like when he's older. Will he be smart and good-looking like his mom? Or will he be charming and witty -- as well as smart and good-looking -- like me? He seems to enjoy the classical music my wife plays for him; does that mean he's destined to be a violinist? He loves when I fly him around the room; is that a sign he'll be a risk-taking thrill-seeker who jumps out of planes?
All new parents like to look for clues to their baby's future. But is it really possible to predict anything about that infant you're holding in your arms? In my search for an answer, I talked to experts who study babies' physical and psychological development. Check out five fascinating things I learned.
Newborns come in all different sizes. Some are tiny and fragile, while others, like my Sammy, look like they fed on cheeseburgers in the womb. It's natural for parents to wonder whether their small infant will be a future pipsqueak and whether the Sammys of the world will end up shopping for size XXL. The fact is, most babies will grow to their genetically predisposed size, regardless of their early measurements. "A baby's size at birth doesn't necessarily correlate with his size as an adult," says Negar Ghafouri, MD, a pediatrician at the UCLA Medical Center, in California. "It's more a factor of uterine size and of the kind of nutrition a baby got in the womb."
Also, the length of a child at birth doesn't give you any indication of whether or not he'll be playing for the Celtics. For one thing, it's pretty hard to measure those squirmy little newborns. "You can't get an accurate height measurement until a child can not only stand up, but stand still," says Dr. Ghafouri.
So is there any way of knowing how tall your baby will be? Sort of. For a girl, you can subtract five inches from her dad's height, add this to her mom's height, then divide by two. For a boy, add both parents' height in inches, divide by two, then add 2.5 inches to that. This will give you an idea of how tall your little squirt will be. But since results can vary by two to four inches, we're talking broad range here. In other words, don't buy that basketball uniform just yet.
My first two children were born with eyes bluer than Paul Newman's, but now one's are green and the other's are hazel. This is quite common, so don't get too attached to your newborn's eye color. "Babies' eyes are lighter because they're not fully pigmented, so they tend to get darker with time," says Dr. Ghafouri. "Eye color usually settles by 6 months, but there can be subtle changes up to 18 months." Dark eyes, however, usually don't get lighter.
Hair color can be even more variable. When Sammy was born, he had so much black hair that it looked like he was wearing a bad toupee. But within two months, his locks had fallen out and delicate, light-brown wisps grew in their place. Who knows what will come next? "Hair color continues to evolve throughout life," says Dr. Ghafouri. "But, like eyes, hair typically darkens over time. It's not likely that a dark-haired baby will become a blond." She neglected to mention that this doesn't apply to adolescents, whose hair can change from black to blond, or even green.
When my wife and I looked at our firstborn son sleeping peacefully in the hospital bassinet, we gave each other a high five, thinking we'd scored a calm, mellow baby. "You don't know what you've got for three weeks," warned our nurse. But I've since learned that it can actually take even longer than that.
An infant who's mellow and placid in his first weeks may remain that way throughout babyhood -- or he may not. (We were lucky: Ours has so far!) Similarly, a newborn who wails and fusses may continue to be high-strung -- or he may calm down. "How much a baby cries during those first few months doesn't predict later temperament," says Mary Rothbart, PhD, principal researcher of the Temperament Laboratory at the University of Oregon, in Eugene. "There are just too many factors that determine whether or not a baby will cry."
The good news is that even the fussiest baby's crying diminishes over time. My wife is a perfect example: My in-laws tell me she cried almost constantly until she was 6 months old, at which point she mellowed out. She now cries only at long-distance telephone commercials and movies in which animals save their masters.
Future game-show hosts aren't born with little microphones, and tomorrow's librarians don't come into the world carrying a tiny book. So it's impossible to make career plans for your child when he's still in the crib. But there's some fascinating research showing that some infant personality traits actually do carry over into adulthood.
According to Jerome Kagan, PhD, professor of psychology at Harvard University, babies who are extroverts -- who have high activity levels, who smile easily, who enjoy being around people, and who babble a lot -- are likely to become extroverted adults. (And end up choosing a career in sales, media, or politics.) Babies who are introverts -- who are quiet around new objects and faces and who don't adapt easily to change -- are likely to stay that way too. (They'll be tomorrow's poets, painters, and computer geeks.)
Still, you should resist the urge to predict your child's future career because, really, anything can happen. "These tendencies are like bricks," Dr. Kagan says. "You don't know what a person is going to build with them."
We all want the best future for our babies. We want them to be tall, gorgeous, athletic powerhouses oozing with intellect, wit, and charisma. So naturally, we're constantly looking for signs that suggest our kids are headed in that direction. But alas, there's no way to tell at such an early age whether a baby is gifted, either athletically or intellectually.
As far as motor skills, there's a huge range of normal. "A child can walk anywhere between 9 and 17 months," says Karen Adolph, PhD, associate professor of psychology at New York University. If she's not walking by 18 months, that could signal some kind of developmental problem. And if she starts walking early? That probably doesn't mean a darn thing.
The same goes for talking. "For whatever reason, some babies are better able to control the sounds they make early on, so they babble earlier," says Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, PhD, professor of applied psychology at New York University. But just because little Henry next door had 4,231 words by 18 months and your baby is struggling to master "Dada," it doesn't mean Henry's headed to Harvard. Only time will tell who's gifted and talented and who is -- heaven forbid! -- average.
Of course, it's hard to be patient, especially if little Henry is also turning cartwheels while your cute-and-quiet type is sitting on the floor like a blob. But just remember that the world's most famous scientist was a late talker. And I'd venture to guess that no one else in Baby Einstein's playgroup accomplished as much as he did.
I can't really know what's in store for my little Sammy -- he's only 5 months old. Maybe in the future, when he's running marathons, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, or hosting a reality TV show that requires contestants to eat live lizards, my wife and I will be able to look back and recall some early hints. For now, though, all we can do is gaze at him lovingly -- with his big, round head, his drooly smile, and his wiggly little legs -- and see a world of possibilities.