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Understanding How Children Mature

A Child's Responses, Birth to Two Months

Reflexes, like grasping, are your baby's way of keeping you close.
Reflexes, like grasping, are your baby's way of keeping you close.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

From the moment of birth, characteristics of both you and your baby allow you to begin developing a special relationship. Newborn babies are very effective at getting their parents and other adults to take care of them.

Physical Appearance

Have you ever noticed that most animal babies are considered cute and cuddly? Some scientists believe this is nature's way of ensuring that animals (including human beings) care for their young. This is why your baby's physical appearance alone makes you feel warm and good inside. In fact, the more characteristic features a baby has (large head, rounded, chubby features), the more positively he is seen by adults in general. Studies report that adults look at chubbier babies more and express a greater desire to play with and take care of them. Even parents have been found to be more responsive to their children when they are cute and attractive than when they are not. Apparently, new babies endear themselves to their parents and grandparents, in part at least, just by the way they look.



Many of a newborn's reflexes (unlearned behavior patterns) serve to ensure physical proximity to his mother. During your baby's first examination, your baby's doctor may demonstrate how your baby's hand forms into a tight grasp around your fingers. In the early months, the grasp reflex is so strong, your baby can almost support his own weight. When a newborn is startled by a loud noise or a sudden change in position, his arms flail out to the side and then are quickly brought together, as if he were trying to grab onto his mother. This reflex is called the Moro, or startle, reflex. This and other reflexes are believed to be remnants from our evolutionary ancestry.

The Cry

Any parent can tell you that a baby's crying is a very unsettling sound, one that is not easy to tune out. Although it is sometimes annoying, think of your baby's cry as her first means of communicating with you.

Crying is a highly adaptive response from an evolutionary viewpoint, probably designed to get the caregiver to attend to the baby's needs. In fact, four out of five times a parent interacts with a baby, it is because the baby cried. Crying alerts you to your baby's needs. Most parents quickly respond by trying to find out what is wrong, checking to see if the baby is cold, wet, hungry, or just bored. In fact, babies may have different cries for different reasons. Parents can often recognize what their babies' cries mean.

Many parents think they can actually identify their newborns by their cries. This may be an accurate perception. Psychologists have studied the acoustical features of individual babies' cries with sophisticated technology-spectrographs that record sound patterns. They have found that babies may be identifiable by unique "cryprints."

Although all babies cry, wide variations occur in how much time a baby spends crying. Some babies may have what is commonly referred to as three-month colic; others may cry only when distressed, hungry, angry, or in pain. Fortunately, by three months most babies dramatically reduce the amount of time they spend crying.

You may be able to help your baby to cry less. It has been found that parents who quickly attend to their babies' crying during the first three months by picking the babies up seem to have babies who cry less at nine months. Contrary to old wives' tales, you are not spoiling your baby by comforting her and relieving her crying.

What works to soothe a crying baby varies depending on your baby's age. Once you have determined that your baby is warm, dry, and fed, you can employ age-old soothing techniques. These techniques change with your child's developmental changes. Of course, the best way to quiet a young baby is to pick her up. Next comes holding a very young baby so she can look over your shoulder, combining closeness and distraction. Newborns also like to be swaddled in receiving blankets. Rocking, giving something to suck, and providing some sort of auditory stimulation, such as music, helps reduce newborns' crying about half the time. Sometimes, simply touching your baby or letting her know you're nearby can make her stop crying.

Looking Patterns

Although a newborn baby can't see objects at a distance very clearly, he is quite able to see your face when you hold him in your arms. In fact, that's about all he can see. Newborns tend to look at areas of high contrast (such as a black object against a white background) and the outside of images (such as a hairline on a face). Thus, a parent's face is an optimal visual stimulus for a baby.


When you hold your new baby, you may notice he naturally molds his body to cuddle with you. This molding ensures maximal body contact between the two of you and makes you feel warm and loving.

Unfortunately, not all babies like to cuddle as much as their parents would like, instead squirming in their parents' arms. This may just be their nature -- and not a reflection of parenting skills. Developmental tests of infants, such as the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, measure newborns' reactions. One of the tests rates babies from "very resistant to being held" to "extremely cuddly and clinging." One study indicated mothers had difficulty teaching resistive newborn babies to cuddle. The more a mother tried to cuddle an unwilling baby, the less the baby cuddled.

If your baby does not want to be cuddled all the time, don't be alarmed or assume you're doing something wrong. Remember that your baby is an individual, and adjust your desire to cuddle him to his responsiveness to being cuddled. However, you might see that your baby starts to respond more to your touch and presence in the second and third months. Continue on to the next section to learn how your baby develops during this time.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.