How to read your baby

Think newborns are boring? Think again! Three things that prove that your baby is a genius.

How do you interact with a newborn?

For many parents, the first few weeks with a newborn are a mixture of panic and boredom.

Panic because we have no idea how to go about our new job -- the one that comes without education, training or monetary compensation. Has baby been fed enough? Has baby slept enough? Is baby sleeping too much? What is baby thinking? Is baby breathing? Why is baby not pooing? Why does baby keep pooing? Why does baby look at me? Why does baby not look at me? … Is it normal?

Boredom because we have the impression baby is not doing much. We don't know how to interact with her. She just lies there: she cannot talk, she cannot play… we are not even sure if she loves us. She feeds, poos, sleeps, feeds, poops, sleeps. And she cries. Maybe she cries a lot. Which is terrible and heart-breaking, but it is also incredibly boring. There is nothing you can do but to wait for her to grow up. Or is there something?

It turns out that by learning what your baby can already do, the switch of panic magically goes off. Because actually she CAN already tell you whether she has fed enough. She CAN already tell you whether she wants to sleep. She CAN already tell you that she loves you.

As for the boredom… well, that goes away the minute you learn how to read her. Then you can suddenly see the miracle unfolding in front of your eyes. I mean a proper miracle, like 700 new neural connections being established every second!

So, what can a newborn do? We all know that, if the birth went normally, the newborn baby will be actively after her mum's nipple within a few minutes, as you can see in the video.

Her abilities go well beyond this. It is not just the physical stuff that she masters like a pro. Her cognition is already geared up and ready to soak in a bunch of information like a gigantic sponge.

Here come three examples of amazing things newborn can do:

  • Newborns recognise (and love) your smell. If you place the t-shirt you wore yesterday on one side of your baby's cot and a t-shirt fresh from the laundry on the other side, your child will turn toward the t-shirt with your wonderful smell on it. (No. Don't go all OCD about this now! First things first: she is telling you she loves you. You'll teach her about the washing machine in a few years. She knows your smell. She loves your smell. She moves so that she gets closer to what she knows and loves. Is that not amazing? I mean, until a few days ago, she was in the womb, floating in liquid and being fed non-stop. Now there she is, already knowing what she likes and actively going after it. Let that determination be long-lived!

  • Newborn can hardly see but they can already spot a face. Vision could not develop very well in the womb. There was no light or distance. Yet, by the first hours of life, babies can already spot faces. Give baby and circle with three blobs arranged like two eyes and a mouth, and she'll stare at it for ages (well… "ages" in newborn terms means seconds… but still!) If you turn that same oval upside down, the baby will lose interest. (Note that all stimuli need to be at roughly 10-20 cm from the baby's eyes for her to have a chance to perceive them). What is even more impressive, is that she can distinguish whether you are looking at her or you are looking away. (I told you, she is a genius!) Obviously, she wants you to have eyes just for her. So the least you can do is stare at her. Really. For hours on end.

  • She can tell you when she had enough of you. Now don't exaggerate. She does not want you to stare at her ALL THE TIME. Yes, she is a genius. Now go over it please and let her sleep! (Maybe take the occasion to catch up on some sleep too). Engaging in social interaction is extremely tiring for a newborn (and for older children too). So you will notice that after a few seconds/minutes of lovingly looking at each other in the eyes, your baby will start looking away. If you don't back off yourself, she might begin to grimace, and if you still don't get it, she will have to cry and scream. (Patience might be something she still needs to work on a little). This goes to show that your baby comes to the world ready to guide you through your interactions with her. You just need to do three things:

  • Learn to read the signs.

  • Watch out for those signs.

  • Respond to your baby's communication.

  • And you can say goodbye to panic and boredom.

Parenting can be amazing and fun, and it can be (mostly) a happy experience. The coolest thing is that, with panic and boredom gone, your child's brain development can unfold in an optimal way. If you want to unlock your child's full potential, start by learning to read her!

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