Grunting, groaning, snuffling and shaking: sometimes a newborn can seem like a beaten-up old car. So why are their actions so odd?
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #1
The hippy hippy shake:
All babies, and in particular newborns, jerk, twitch and shake – one minute they’ll be still, the next they’ll be a little twitchy. This is because their neurological systems aren’t fully developed, and they’re not good at regulating their movements.
It’s all normal and cute, but if your newborn has jerks that last longer than a few beats, and the jerks are on one side of their body, call your doctor to check all is okay.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #2
The free falling:
Just when you thought your baby was calm and asleep, along comes a rather extreme movement called the Moro reflex, when he’ll flail his arms to the side, jerk suddenly and maybe even cry. This is because he senses he is falling or is startled.
According to What to Expect: The First Year, the Moro is a built-in survival mechanism designed to protect the newborn. In this case, it’s a primitive attempt to regain perceived loss of equilibrium.
This is one of the reasons why swaddling is necessary with newborns because it does help to prevent your baby from waking himself up when this startle reflex occurs.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #3
Before you panic and try to cure your baby’s hiccups by startling him, giving him sugar water, putting a piece of paper on his head or pressing on his eyelids (all so-called “cures”), know that hiccupping is normal in babies.
They could be a result of quick feeding, or because their breathing and swallowing aren’t synchronised yet. This is why burping your baby well during and after feeds is so essential.
In most cases, babies aren’t bothered by hiccupping (unlike their parents), but if it interferes with your baby’s sleep or feeding, chat to your paediatrician.
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STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #4
The head banging:
Many babies bang their heads, and while it may be alarming, experts think that head banging could be a soothing action as it involves rocking back and forth.
While it might unnerve you, it could stimulate your baby’s developing sense of motion and balance. If you’re worried he’s going to hurt himself, distract him, and make sure to also put a protector around his cot.
If the banging has you concerned, chat to your doctor to rule out any developmental issues.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #5
The no-tears crying:
Can it be called crying without the tears? It sure can.
While babies make a lot of noise and we know they’re “crying”, babies aren’t born with the ability to form tears as a reaction to emotional distress. Contrary to what most people think, babies can manufacture tears but just don’t know how to tear up.
At around three or four months old, your baby’s nervous system kicks in and begins transmitting messages to his tear glands in response to his stress.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #6
The heavy breather:
We totally get why parents are startled out of their beds by the weird sounds coming from the baby monitor – it’s because our babies breathe loudly and often funnily.
Many babies sputter, whistle and make noises through their little noses while breathing, especially when they’re on their backs. This is because newborns and small babies are nose breathers, which means they’re going to be noisy (and keep you amused or awake via the baby monitor).
As long as your baby is not bothered, and is able to suck, eat and sleep easily, it should be fine.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #7
Before you freak out that your child is an early experimenter or already has sexual urges if he starts touching his genitals, relax. No really, calm down.
Just as a baby touching his feet or clapping his hands is part of learning about his world, so too is touching his body. Remember, your baby explores his world by touching, and this region is no different.
There’s no reason to feel startled or ashamed of his behaviour – remember little boys start touching their penises in utero already. The most common time for your baby to touch himself is during a bath or nappy change (obviously as this is the one of the few times he is completely naked).
The feeling of air, water or touch could cause a penis erection or vaginal lubrication. Again, don’t panic – experts say it’s a completely normal and very healthy passage of discovery, but if it bothers you a lot, you can always distract your baby with a toy during nappy changes and baths.
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STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #8
The strong hold:
Have you ever thought you were losing a wrestling match to your newborn clutching your finger? Scientists think that this finger grip is an involuntary reflex inherited from our ancestors, when holding on tight to one’s mother was necessary for basic survival.
Research has shown that when a baby grips his mom’s finger, his heart rate slows down, suggesting that it’s soothing to him. Enjoy it while it lasts because they soon grow up and don’t need you quite as much.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #9
Is it gas? Is it baby happy to see you? Or is he having a fantastic dream about milky boobs?
According to the experts, it’s none of those. Newborn smiles are spontaneous and often happen while your baby is drowsy or during rapid eye movement stages of sleep.
From around six weeks, babies will start smiling at stimuli, and it’s usually mom who gets the first grin.
STRANGE BEHAVIOUR #10
So you’ve got the video camera ready to film your baby clapping his hands, just as he did the day before and the week before. And guess what?
Your baby looks at you blankly, as if he has no idea what you’re on about, and as if his hands have never made contact with each other.
Before you panic that your child is forgetful or has taken five developmental steps back, relax in the knowledge that he might have moved on, learning and trying to retain the next skill.
Another theory is that the skill has just been put on the back burner, to be accessed when he’s in a different setting, without other things on his mind.
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