I watched as my neighbour, who had her son a day after Valentine’s Day, bathed him days back, and all the while, the young man had this “Do what you want to hurry up, and let me rest?!” expression his face, while all the while furiously sucking on his index and middle fingers.
I didn’t know when I started laughing at the baby, and the air he was putting on. I especially liked the fact that he has mastered the art of sucking, as I come from a family of suckers. I sucked and stopped somewhere in Primary School. My middle sister was the chronic one, she was at it till Secondary School, and my older twins both sucked, although one has stopped now.
Apart from sucking fingers, there was a baby girl who gripped my hair, and I actually yelped in pain as she wouldn’t let go, while I was trying to have a conversation with her mother. It took her mom a few moments to get my hair out of her fist. After that, I told her mother to sit down, rather than stand in front of me, as her daughter was still lunging for my hair. My hair snatcher isn’t such a big girl, but her hold is as strong as a horse.
Still on the things babies instinctively do, I remember the way my younger twins used to wiggle around in their search for milk. It is such a sweet feeling, having their bobbing heads rub against my chest, as they try to get into position for our feeding session. Their search for the breast is as instinctive as their ability to draw breath on their own.
By the end of this piece, you will be wowed, and will not look at babies with the same eyes again. Essentially, babies are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
Below are some of the things babies do instinctively as soon as they are born:
- Rooting Reflex
One of the first things a child does when placed near its mom is start the process of rooting. It is automatic, because it’s how a baby looks for food.
Many people compare the look of a rooting baby with that of a hungry baby bird awaiting a worm. Personally, puppies come to mind for me. The mouth opens, and a child will move their face in the general direction of what they are trying to latch onto.
This instinct is obviously good for survival, since a baby needs milk to live. Plus, colostrum, the first breast milk that is liquid gold, is full of nutrients and baby will be searching for it as soon as it’s born.
- Crying Reflex
Moms usually await that first cry of their baby eagerly. From that first moment, I don’t know how it sticks but it does stick. For me, as a mom of twins, I instinctively know which one of my twins is crying, even till today.
As a reflex, a baby’s first cry announces its arrival, strength, and of course, need.
A child cries because there is pretty much no other way to have his needs met.
Researchers also found that an infant’s cry is naturally calibrated to affect adults, even those who aren’t the child’s parent. Our brains work in a way that makes it almost impossible to ignore the cry of a baby. It triggers an emotional response from us, which can mean survival for a baby.
- Galant Reflex
This reflex is not that well known, but it’s quite important in determining certain neurological conditions. And early detection is key in this case.
To get a baby to show off this reflex, hold the baby belly down, lying on your forearm and hand. If you gently stroke along one side of its spine, baby will arch its body toward that side.
- Stepping Reflex
You’ve probably noticed this; if you hold your newborn under its arms, its little legs will instinctively make that walking reflex. It is not a sign of being an early walker, he’s simply exhibiting the walking, or stepping, reflex.
Experts aren’t quite sure what’s behind this one; some speculate that it might show that babies are programmed from birth to walk, even though they can’t actually do it…at least, not until their muscles are ready to handle the job.
- Grasp Reflex
An especially fun response to elicit is the grasp reflex. Simply stroke your baby’s palm with your finger and you will automatically feel baby’s grip tighten around it and cling on. That was what that little madam did with my hair.
Parents are often amazed at their child’s Herculean grip — just try and pry him off.
Of what use is this grasp reflex? For one thing, it’s a way for infants to interact with their environment. They can’t consciously hold on to you yet, but touch is such an integral part of their development, and nature has found a way to help them do it, without even having to think about it.
- Self-Protective Withdrawal Reflex
If you come at your baby a little too quickly, you’ll see baby flinch away from you. This is the withdrawal reflex, and seems to be related to self-protection. Infants will also withdraw from pain.
Though this protective response will get more sophisticated as your little one grows and gains more knowledge of the world, it will stay with baby his whole life.
- Math Skills
To thinks that babies are naturally great at maths, only for some of us to grow older and hate the subject, it just beats me.
A researcher at Yale University found that babies are born with the ability to do basic mathematics. They can count with a glance, they know when something should add up and they recognize when an equation doesn’t make sense. The researcher managed to figure this out, by testing babies using the “looking method”, which shows when a baby between 1 and 6 months is interested in something, she uses objects to pose simple math problems to babies. Most of the time, when the equation is right, the babies are bored and don’t really give the whole thing more than a glance. But when the equation is wrong, nearly all the babies stared and stared at it.
This isn’t obviously direct proof that babies can do math, but it would make sense. Babies know they have two parents, that mom has two breasts, and many probably recognize a certain number of siblings, relatives and family friends. The older they get, the more they start to recognize certain amounts way before we give them credit for knowing them.
- Swimming Skills
Most researchers have found that the best time for a person to take swimming lessons, is when they are 3 to 6 months old.
That’s because babies are born with the instinct to hold their breath underwater. Unfortunately, they lose that natural reflex as they grow older. Unless of course, they are trained to keep it, think swimming lessons.
- Moro Reflex
Abrupt movements or loud sounds can elicit a catlike, protective reaction called the Moro, or startle, reflex.
When baby is startled, its arms and legs will move up quickly and extend outward, as if saying “Hold me!”. If the surprise has been a rather big one and baby isn’t picked up and cuddled quickly, baby may start to cry too.
The Moro reflex is most prominent in the first month, and should vanish by about 4 months.
- Righting reflexes
Placed face down, your baby will turn his head to the side, ensuring he can breathe. And while on his back, if a blanket falls over its head, baby will twist its head and flail its arms to push it away from his face — a potential lifesaver.
A very needful reflex for a baby is the Moro reflex.
All of the reflexes mentioned above are not taught to new-borns, they just know how to do it and all of it help a baby in the early stage of its life.
Happy babies…Happy mamas.
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