A month or two ago, my husband came home from a daddy and baby morning at the park with a weird story to tell me: while he and our son were admiring ducks together, a man approached them and commented, “that’s nice, but he’ll never remember this moment.” We both chuckled at this complete stranger’s over the top random act of negativity. It was easy to laugh off such a bizarre encounter, but the truth is, I still think about that guy’s words from time to time, wondering if there might be some truth to his comment. Of course, kids should be having positive interactions and experiences from the time that they are small, but what do babies really need to feel happy? Babyhood memories do disappear pretty quickly so how important is it that we work to create special moments during the infancy stage? Will a baby who spends his days chilling at home become as well-adjusted and content as a baby who gets out more?
I started to search for some science-based info about infant happiness, with the goal of finding out if there are specific benefits to providing babies with activity and adventure, or if a more simplistic, laid back approach to parenting is the way to go. I found no step by step instructions for how to be a perfect parent, but I did end up reading a bit about what babies need to develop the healthiest possible bodies and minds. Whether they will remember certain moments or not, babies need opportunities to play, problem solve, and socialize; this is probably not new information for most people, but if you’d like more interesting baby facts, here you go:
There are big benefits to playing with your baby: I absolutely love snuggling up to read stories to our little guy. It makes me so happy that our kid is into books, not just because I remember reading bringing me joy as a child, but also because it would be nice to raise a little boy who is bright and enjoys learning. That being said, I’ve come across research (I encourage you to visit Parenting for Brain or look at the infographic below for further info) that explains how a love of learning can also be inspired by getting down on the ground to help babies explore, discover, and create through play. Play can help infants acquire skills and gain knowledge about their environment, the people around them, and their own senses.
Babies need exercise too: Keeping baby active not only helps to burn off their boundless energy, but also sets an early foundation for an active lifestyle. I read some good points about this in a WebMD article, Even Babies Need Exercise. My baby’s dislike of sleep, and fascination with tv makes it very tempting to park him in front of the screen so I can have time to myself; while there are definitely points during our days together when I enjoy watching a show with him, I also do my best to get his little body moving as much as possible! Whether he’ll remember our special moments or not, engaging in fun, novel experiences with our kiddo is so worth it when we get to see his adorable face light up.
There are many theories about how baby memory works: Googling “baby memory studies” didn’t yield as much information as I would have liked. I found a 2012 article from Psychology today entitled “‘Babies Can’t Remember’ is Bunk“. The piece makes the point that babies are able to remember things starting at birth; things like familiar faces, voices, and smells. This ability expands and strengthens as they grow so that by 9 months of age babies can recall details like a caregiver showing them how to work a toy. Meanwhile, a Popular Science post from 2014 explains that a phenomenon known as infant amnesia causes the disappearance of most memories before the age of 7. Infant amnesia has to do with new cells forming in the brain throughout childhood, basically busying the brain in a way that doesn’t allow it to hold on to long term memory (at least this is how I understand it). The most reliable info I found came from the Queensland Brain Institute. They have found that “a latent trace of the memory of an early experience remains for a long period of time – and can be triggered by a later reminder”. So maybe next time we’re at the park, it will trigger our son’s memory of looking at ducks with dad…take that weird stranger guy!
Baby smiles can mean a lot of different things: When our son smiles, our hearts, of course, melt because we, of course, assume that he is feeling happy. In a post I read on Romper recently, I learned some surprising facts about baby smiles; apparently, they aren’t as tied to emotion as most of us believe them to be. There is evidence that suggests babies smile as a response to seeing or hearing something or someone that they recognize. More interestingly, in my opinion, is that sometimes those sweet facial expressions may be little more than an attempt to get caregivers to flash a smile back at the baby (read this piece from Science Daily for more on that). So our littles know how to manipulate us right from infancy! Finally, a baby’s tendency (or reluctance) to smile may hold some clues about the personality traits we can expect to see in them as they grow. A smiley baby won’t necessarily become a joyful adult optimist, but a Russian study that followed kids from babyhood to the age of 8 found that infants who smile lots often grow into less neurotic people than babies who tend to fuss frequently.
Balinese babies are believed to be holy: I had to include this fact because it kind of speaks to my own beliefs about newborns. While we aren’t a particularly religious household, when we look at our son’s bright, beautiful face we can’t help but feel there must be some powerful, loving, force that played a part in his creation. A New York Times article I came across explains that the Balinese people believe, “newborns are still close to the sacred realm from which they came and therefore deserve to be treated with veneration”. So revered are new babies that their feet are not supposed to touch the ground for the first 3 months of life. While I can’t relate to the idea that a baby needs to be kept off of the ground, I definitely understand how one can look at a new life and truly believe that they have come from some awesome place in the universe. If you’re curious about how other cultures welcome babies to the world, click below to read more!