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Your baby is amazing

If you think of 5 things a new baby can do, what do you think of?

We often think that all new babies can do is wee, poo, feed, sleep and cry.

We now know that babies are really amazing, and they are capable of so much more.

Babies are born ready to relate, they need relationships; they learn and develop through relationships; they are interested in and enjoy relationships.

Would you like to know a bit more?

You can try our short true/false section below to find out some amazing things about babies that are based on research findings.

If you’re interested to find out more about the research you can explore more by clicking on the research link in each section.

Babies can communicate as soon as they are born

Actually it's true, babies are born communicators.

Babies love to talk with you, taking it in turn. Although babies are motivated to communicate, research has shown that parents’ smiles and mirroring encourages babies to be increasingly socially expressive – so those moments that you are smiling and copying your baby are super valuable!

Research shows that even premature babies are motivated to communicate with you and leave a space in their sounds for you to respond to them.

From the time they are born babies are communicating, using their own ‘language’ – facial expressions and movements. These are sometimes called cues.

Babies are giving us cues all the time.

These are not just reflexive (just automatic and without thinking) but they are intentional, our babies are motivated to communicate with us.

Explore the research

In this video, Colwyn Trevarthen, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at the University of Edinburgh Travarthen explains that babies are seeking a companion.

Infants are socially expressive from birth. Infants’ social expressiveness is encouraged by parental smiles and mirroring (Murray et al. 2016).

Babies engage in conversation-like exchanges, called protoconversations, from birth.  They initiate and shape turn-taking dialogue (Gratier et al. 2015).

They contribute to the pace and tempo (Feldman, Greenbaum Yirmiya and Mayes 1996; Trevarthen 2001).

They have innate musicality which supports communication and dialogue (Malloch and Trevarthen 2009; Trevarthen et al. 2011).

Babies are very sensitive to those they are communicating with, they are very sensitive to contingency and are upset by interactions where this is disturbed (Murray and Trevarthen 1985; Nadel et al. 1999).

Studies show they are communicating even before birth from the womb (Nagy et al. 2021).

Babies can smile from birth

Baby smiling in sleep

Actually it's true, babies can even smile before they are born!

We may have been told that babies cannot smile until at least 6 weeks. But scans have now shown us that babies are smiling before they are even born, and they smile at pleasurable sensations and sounds.

They can smile from birth.

In the first few weeks, their smile can be more difficult to spot because their expression differs from older infants with briefer lip curve.

Explore the research

In utero babies have been seen to smile, for example, the smile when they taste something sweet, like carrots

image of scan of baby smiling in womb

– and they grimace at kale!

A 4D ultrasound image of a baby taken before flavours were introduced Durham University SWNS

Babies in womb ‘smile’ for carrots and grimace for kale, study finds (msn.com)  Ustun, B., Reissland, N., Covey, J., Schaal, B., & Blissett, J. (2022). Flavor Sensing in Utero and Emerging Discriminative Behaviors in the Human Fetus. Psychological Science0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/09567976221105460

Scan show us that babies in the womb smile at pleasurable stimulus (Kawakami and Yanaihara 2012; Steiner 1974; Wolff 1959).

They can smile from birth. In the first few weeks, their smile can be more difficult to spot because their lip curl is not held as long.  Research has also indicated that the neonate provides social smiles of pleasure, but that the neonates expression differs from older infants with briefer lip curve (Cecchni et al. 2011; Dondi et al. 2010).  This means that the infant’s smile can be more difficult to spot.

Young babies are able to co-operate with their parents

Baby with hands and feet raised ready to be picked up

In fact, research shows this is true

Babies co-operate with parents. They coordinate their bodies with their parents for example when they are going to be picked up.  Research shows that even very young babies make appropriate anticipatory adjustments to the caregivers’ pick-up action. They increase the rigidity of their bodies and reduce movement to make it easier for them to be held, when they are a little older they also respond by widening or raising their arms.

They enjoy cooperation and can seem disappointed if another person does not join in.

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Babies cooperate with parents  (Hubley and Trevarthen 1979).  They coordinate their bodies with their parents for example when they are going to be picked up (Fantasia et al. 2016).

They enjoy cooperation and can seem disappointed if another person does not join in.

Babies recognise and prefer your voice over others

No, amazingly, this is actually true

By 15-week gestation baby will start to hear.  Babies have been shown to respond to voices and noise from outside the mum’s body by about 27 weeks.   The most significant sound your baby hears in the womb is your voice. In the third trimester, your baby can already recognize it. They will respond with an increased heart rate that suggests they are more alert when you’re speaking. So your voice will be familiar to them when they are born.

If you sing a song regularly during your pregnancy, they will recognise it when they are born.

Watch this amazing film of a father singing to his baby a song he sang during pregnancy.

This baby is just 6 days old. Notice his pleasure in his Dad singing to him; he gave a big smile.  His wrinkled brow shows how engaged he is – he is really concentrating. He knows this song, he has learnt it.

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Babies can tell the difference between the language you speak and other languages.  Your baby learns to recognize and show a preference for the speech patterns and vowel sounds associated with your native language by the time they are born.

Research is showing us that newborns classify languages according to their rhythm, as revealed by their capacity to discriminate between different languages (Mehler et al., 1988; Nazzi, Bertoncini, & Mehler, 1998; Ramus et al., 2000). Shortly after birth, human infants already exhibit a variety of sophisticated linguistic capacities, from discriminating syllables and human languages (1) to remember short stories (2).Mahmoudzadeh, M., Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Fournier, M., Kongolo, G., Goudjil, S., Dubois, J., Grebe, R. and Wallois, F., 2013. Syllabic discrimination in premature human infants prior to complete formation of cortical layers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(12), pp.4846-4851.

Babies recognise and love your smell

Actually, it's true

Your baby’s sense of smell develops in the womb, and by the time they’re born babies can smell about as well as adults. Because the sense of smell is closely related to taste, it influences what your baby does and doesn’t like to eat. Your smell is really comforting to your baby and it plays a big role in your baby bonding with you and other caregivers.

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The role of the sense of smell is important and used immediately after birth. In the 1970s, the sense of smell was found to be the main guide towards the nipple as early as during the hour following birth. It has been demonstrated that it is mostly through the sense of smell that the newborn baby can identify its mother (and, to a certain extent, that the mother can identify her baby).

Odent M. The early expression of the rooting reflex. Proceedings of the 5th  International Congress of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Rome 1977. London: Academic Press, 1977: 1117-19.

Odent M. L’expression précoce du réflexe de fouissement. In : Les cahiers du nouveau-né 1978 ; 1-2 : 169-185

Ilyka, D., Johnson, M.H. and Lloyd-Fox, S., 2021. Infant social interactions and brain development: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews130, pp.448-469 explain lots about infant brain development, for example

“Interactions with others are an integral part of a person’s daily life from the moment of birth…

Humans are inherently a social species. In addition to being born with a set of predispositions to navigate the social world (Johnson et al., 1991DeCasper and Fifer, 1980Vouloumanos et al., 2010Simion et al., 2008), the vast repertoire of infant’s social and communicative skills develops with experience within the context of interaction with other humans, in particular, with their caregivers (Legerstee, 2009)…

Most of the basic architecture supporting structural and functional organisation of the brain is present by the second birthday, followed by slow-paced “fine-tuning” and reorganisations of the major circuits and networks (review Gilmore et al., 2018). Specifically, the basic “wiring” of the brain in the form of major white matter tracts and white-matter structural networks is already established by the time of birth. So too are the highly correlated variations in grey-matter volumes observed across primary sensorimotor regions (Gilmore et al., 2018Geng et al., 2017Cao et al., 2017). Similarly, the developmental patterns of functional connectivity reveal somewhat mature network configurations of auditory, visual and sensorimotor functional networks before birth (Fransson et al., 2007Lin et al., 2008Gao et al., 2015). Early experiences and gene expression postnatally can further refine these primary circuits to be more efficient, leading towards a gradual improvement of other functional networks supporting various cognitive and perceptual functions (i.e. social processing) (Alcauter et al., 2014). Rooted in these primary sensory networks, the protracted experience-dependent development of higher-order parietal, frontal, and temporal brain areas as well as the maturation of white matter tracts (myelination) takes place postnatally (Gilmore et al., 2018Geng et al., 2017Emerson et al., 2016Gao et al., 2015Zielinski et al., 2010Gogtay et al., 2004).

The early experiences that a child receives – both prenatally and postnatally (Miguel et al., 2019) – are embedded within the caregiving environment and may contribute to neural differentiation necessary for further neural reorganisations (Champagne and Curley, 2005). For example, neural attunement to specific types of stimuli that are repeatedly presented in the environment is heavily influenced by caregivers (see Maurer and Werker, 2013 for review)…

Adverse patterns of social experiences – in extreme cases institutionalization, neglect and abuse – are associated with structural and functional brain atypicalities (reviews McLaughlin et al., 2019Belsky and De Haan, 2011Teicher et al., 2003), for example, reduced cerebellar, grey and white matter volumes are already evident by early childhood (e.g. Sheridan et al., 2012Eluvathingal et al., 2006Bauer et al., 2009). However, even variations in normative caregiving environment can affect brain development in children who have not been exposed to extreme adversity. For example, a study with adults demonstrated that supportive parenting during early adolescence buffered against the adversities of poverty as reflected in the adult’s resting-state functional connectivity in both central executive and emotion-regulation networks (Brody et al., 2019). In contrast, negative or aggressive parenting was linked to alterations in the development of the prefrontal cortex in adolescents (Whittle et al., 2016).”

Babies love looking at your face

mother and baby looking at each other as baby lies in her arms

Actually, this is true

Even though newborns eyesight limited to about 30 centimetres. babies love to look at faces and newborns have been shown to prefer their mother’s face to other faces. Babies prefer to look at familiar faces — especially yours.

Infants have been found, from birth, to look longer at faces with direct as opposed to averted gaze and this supports bonding and social learning.

Mutual gaze between mother and infant has been identified as an aspect of communicative engagement.

Baby in mum's arms looking up into her face

Explore the research

Studies have shown that even newborns, with their eyesight limited to about 30 centimetres, love looking at faces (Macchi Cassia et al. 2001). Babies love to look at faces, they prefer to look at familiar faces  and newborns have been shown to prefer their mother’s face  to other faces (Field et al. 1984; Pascalis et al. 1995; Sai 1990).

Infants have been found, from birth, to look longer at faces with direct, as opposed to averted gaze and this supports bonding and social learning (Farroni, Csibra, Simion, & MacLean et al., 2014; Heyes 2015).

Mutual gaze between mother and infant has been identified as an aspect of communicative engagement (Csibra and Gergely 2009, 2011; Lavelli and Fogel, 2005; Reddy 2003; Tronick, 1989). Such findings support the claims of infants’ social motivations and awareness (Murray and Trevarthen 1986; Trevarthen 1998).

Macchi Cassia, V., Simion, F. and Umiltaà, C., 2001. Face preference at birth: the role of an orienting mechanism. Developmental Science4(1), pp.101-108.

Babies can sense your emotions

Mum and premature baby look at each otehr

Actually, babies can sense emotions

Research shows that babies sense and react to their parent’s emotional cues.

“From birth, infants pick up on emotional cues from others. Even very young infants look to caregivers to determine how to react to a given situation,”

Babies are really interested in people and they express their interest from birth in facial expressions and body positions.

Babies look at their caregivers to see if something is safe and how to feel about themselves, others and situations.

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Babies are really interested people (Hammond and Drummond 2019).  Prosocial experiments often rely on the infant’s interest in the presented situation, including engaging with the actor’s interests. Research has found that infants express their interest from birth in facial expressions and body positions (Oster 2005: Von Hofsten 1984).(Hammond snakes) social referencing – look at mum to see if something is safe

Some research shows that some babies can imitate your expressions from birth.

Children, including infants, “are predisposed to receiving information, as they are extremely sensitive to such ostensive communication. This natural receptiveness allows them to develop referential expectations and subsequently to generalize the newly acquired knowledge to similar objects or events (Csibra & Gergely, 2009).” (Clement and Dukes 2016).  Babies are really interested people (Hammond and Drummond 2019).  Prosocial experiments often rely on the infant’s interest in the presented situation, including engaging with the actor’s interests. Research has found that infants express their interest from birth in facial expressions and body positions (Oster 2005: Von Hofsten 1984).

Children, including infants, often observe how their caregivers’ emotional reactions to learn how to feel about situations, people and objects (Clément & Dukes, 2013).

Mothers’ and babies are not only affected by one anothers emotions.

Mothers’ and babies’ brains can work together as a ‘mega-network’ by synchronising brain waves when they interact.

As a social species, humans share emotional states with others. Research shows that emotions that mums and babies feel change how their brain behave.

Mums and babies tend to synchronise their brain waves—an effect known as interpersonal neural connectivity.  Positive interaction, with lots of eye contact, enhances the ability of mother and infant brains to operate as a single system. This promotes efficient sharing and flow of information between mother and infant – supporting learning and the relationship. “By using a positive emotional tone during social interactions, parents can connect better with their infants, and stimulate development of their baby’s mental capacity.”

“Our emotions literally change the way that our brains share information with others— positive emotions help us to communicate in a much more efficient way,” said Dr. Leong.

More information: Lorena Santamaria et al, Emotional valence modulates the topology of the parent-infant inter-brain network, NeuroImage (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116341

Journal information: NeuroImage

Babies are soothed by skin-to-skin contact with you

Actually, this is true

Research has proved that when parents or carers who their baby, the baby’s heart rate slows, and this relaxes the baby. This effect also reduces the stress and anxiety level of the parent.  Skin-to-skin contact particularly provides warmth to your baby’s skin, but also has been shown to increase the quality of deep sleep and quiet alertness, both of which are very important to your baby’s development. Babies from 4  months onwards start reaching up to their parents or primary caregivers as a sign that they want to be picked up.

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Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants benefits mothers and infants (Moore et al. 2016: Linnér et al. 2022).  Skin-to-skin supports the infant’s blood glucose levels and cardio-respiratory system (Moore et al. 2016; Linnér et al. 22).   It can also support mother’s bonding with their infant and parent’s responsiveness to infants’ cues (Baley et al. 2015).  Studies focused on pre-term infants have found that skin-to-skin benefits their sleep, pain management and autonomic functioning and stress (Baley et al. 2015).

Babies can demonstrate humour

Research shows us that this is actually true

In research, more than 20 types of humour can be seen being appreciated by babies as young as 3 months. These types of humour indicators included chasing and tickling, copying sounds and expressions, peek-a-boo style surprises, silly faces, and absurd use of objects.  Humour is a great skill that helps us cope with feelings.

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Mireault, G.C., Crockenberg, S.C., Sparrow, J.E., Pettinato, C.A., Woodard, K.C. and Malzac, K., 2014. Social looking, social referencing and humor perception in 6-and-12-month-old infants. Infant Behavior and Development37(4), pp.536-545 explain, “In infants, humor perception is most apparent in smiling and laughing, universal behaviors that appear very early from 0-6 weeks and 3-4 months, respectively (Ruch & Ekman, 2001Wolff, 1963). Humor involves the complex convergence of neural (Wild, Rhodden, Grodd, & Ruch, 2003), cognitive (Forabosco, 1992), behavioral (Lockard, Fahrenbruch, Smith, & Morgan, 1977), emotional (Panksepp, 2005), and social (Chapman, 1983) responses. Yet, infants show a high capacity for humor, laughter, and play in the first year of life (Hill, 1996). For example, babies between 7 and 12 months of age laugh in response to the incongruous pairings of familiar materials and actions (Loizou, 2005), like putting a bowl on one’s head. Infants this age also attempt to elicit laughter in others and try to maintain humorous interactions that are in progress (Loizou, 2005). These observations of infant humor have implications for understanding theory of mind (Hoicka & Akhtar, 2011Hoicka & Gattis, 2008Reddy, 2008), attachment (Mireault, Sparrow, Poutre, Perdue, & Macke, 2012), and spectrum disorders (Reddy, Williams, & Vaughan 2002). For example, Reddy (2001) reports that 8- to 11-month-olds engage in simple teasing like offering and withdrawing an object, an early form of deception and an indication that infants may hold more understanding of others’ minds than is typically assumed. Thus, studying humor can help provide a developmental account of early social understanding (Stack & Lewis, 2008).”

Babies prefer helpful behaviour to unhelpful behaviour

Actually, it's true, they do

Babies have been shown to be prosocial – this means that even very young babies can recognise others being kind or helpful as opposed to unkind or unhelpful and they favour those who are kind and helpful.

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This film shows how infants are prosocial, they prefer helpfulness.

Hamlin et al.’s (2007; 2010; 2011; 2018) studies show infants are meaning-making and this arguably demonstrates a level of empathy as well as a preference for prosocial behaviour when infants were presented with a story of a circle wishing to reach the top of the hill, being helped up and being pushed down.

Your baby's brain is developing at an incredibly rate

Baby girl with pretty dress and headband smiling up at parent

Actually, this is true

Babies are beautifully adapted for learning – they have an incredible capacity to take information in.

In fact your babies brain is behaving like the most brilliant scientist

Your baby’s brain is developing over time: It starts during pregnancy, and continues through to life. And like a building, it needs a strong foundation.

The brain is a network which controls everything we do—from hearing and walking to problem-solving and how we feel. Our brain is made up of   about a 100 billion brain cells, or neurons. These neurons communicate with each other by passing chemical messages over tiny spaces called synapses. As the messages are repeated over and over, more links are made and “neural pathways” are formed. Think of these pathways as the brain’s “wiring.” In the first years of life, these connections develop at an extremely fast pace.

Your baby’s brain wiring is not fully connected at birth. It is very active and adpative changing and developing in response to what’s going on all around them. It is the day-to-day experiences—activities like playing, being read to, learning, and interacting and being responded to by people—that helps to develop your baby’s brain.

Relationships are crucial. Loving, consistent, positive relationships help build healthy brains and protect your baby’s brain from the negative effects of stress.

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Our brain uses predictions to make sense of the world and ourselves and as parents,   we are helping shape our infants’ predictions – parents are very valuable (Feldman-Barrett 2017).

Ilyka, D., Johnson, M.H. and Lloyd-Fox, S., 2021. Infant social interactions and brain development: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews130, pp.448-469 explain lots about infant brain development, for example

“Interactions with others are an integral part of a person’s daily life from the moment of birth…

Humans are inherently a social species. In addition to being born with a set of predispositions to navigate the social world (Johnson et al., 1991DeCasper and Fifer, 1980Vouloumanos et al., 2010Simion et al., 2008), the vast repertoire of infant’s social and communicative skills develops with experience within the context of interaction with other humans, in particular, with their caregivers (Legerstee, 2009)…

Most of the basic architecture supporting structural and functional organisation of the brain is present by the second birthday, followed by slow-paced “fine-tuning” and reorganisations of the major circuits and networks (review Gilmore et al., 2018). Specifically, the basic “wiring” of the brain in the form of major white matter tracts and white-matter structural networks is already established by the time of birth. So too are the highly correlated variations in grey-matter volumes observed across primary sensorimotor regions (Gilmore et al., 2018Geng et al., 2017Cao et al., 2017). Similarly, the developmental patterns of functional connectivity reveal somewhat mature network configurations of auditory, visual and sensorimotor functional networks before birth (Fransson et al., 2007Lin et al., 2008Gao et al., 2015). Early experiences and gene expression postnatally can further refine these primary circuits to be more efficient, leading towards a gradual improvement of other functional networks supporting various cognitive and perceptual functions (i.e. social processing) (Alcauter et al., 2014). Rooted in these primary sensory networks, the protracted experience-dependent development of higher-order parietal, frontal, and temporal brain areas as well as the maturation of white matter tracts (myelination) takes place postnatally (Gilmore et al., 2018Geng et al., 2017Emerson et al., 2016Gao et al., 2015Zielinski et al., 2010Gogtay et al., 2004).

The early experiences that a child receives – both prenatally and postnatally (Miguel et al., 2019) – are embedded within the caregiving environment and may contribute to neural differentiation necessary for further neural reorganisations (Champagne and Curley, 2005). For example, neural attunement to specific types of stimuli that are repeatedly presented in the environment is heavily influenced by caregivers (see Maurer and Werker, 2013 for review)…

Adverse patterns of social experiences – in extreme cases institutionalization, neglect and abuse – are associated with structural and functional brain atypicalities (reviews McLaughlin et al., 2019Belsky and De Haan, 2011Teicher et al., 2003), for example, reduced cerebellar, grey and white matter volumes are already evident by early childhood (e.g. Sheridan et al., 2012Eluvathingal et al., 2006Bauer et al., 2009). However, even variations in normative caregiving environment can affect brain development in children who have not been exposed to extreme adversity. For example, a study with adults demonstrated that supportive parenting during early adolescence buffered against the adversities of poverty as reflected in the adult’s resting-state functional connectivity in both central executive and emotion-regulation networks (Brody et al., 2019). In contrast, negative or aggressive parenting was linked to alterations in the development of the prefrontal cortex in adolescents (Whittle et al., 2016).”