By Jill Kelsey
We often read about the typical milestones that a healthy baby reaches at different ages. Typical milestones are: rolling over, sitting, crawling, vocalizing, standing, teething, walking, etc. However, what about the lesser-known, unexpected, and strange phases that babies go through that leave us scratching our heads and searching for answers?
An infant’s nervous system is not fully developed. As a result, there are several typical newborn reflexes that you will encounter over time. Most of them disappear or evolve by 2-3 months of age. Sucking is an example of an evolving reflex. Eventually, the reflex changes from involuntary to voluntary. If the newborn reflexes have not disappeared, or evolved by 6 months of age, consult your pediatrician.
SUCKING is initially an involuntary reflex. It’s a reflex that develops while in the womb. Many an ultrasound has peeked into the little thumb sucker’s world. The sucking reflex eventually changes to a voluntary behavior. The existence of the sucking reflex is vital for survival and ingesting food once the umbilical cord has been cut.
Stroking the baby’s cheek causes its head to turn toward the stroked cheek. This ROOTING behavior causes them to seek and eventually find the breast.
What is going on when your baby suddenly splays all arms and legs out suddenly at once? This little dance is done each time they are startled by a sound or movement, and it is called the ‘MORO REFLEX’ or ‘STARTLE REFLEX.’
Watching your infant make FUNNY FACES is absolutely delightful! Most of these faces are made while they are sleeping or pooping (learning how to poop).
When you see your baby’s LIP QUIVERING, most likely, they are not cold. However, ensure they are at the proper temperature if you have any questions. Lip quivering is often seen when you are picking the baby up. It does look a lot like a shiver. Other body parts may TREMOR or quiver as well: legs, arms, chin. This is the baby’s nervous system developing.
Most people are familiar with the baby’s ‘iron hand’ grip. This is called the PALMER GRASP. When you put something in the baby’s hand, they will grip it tightly (see image above). The lesser-known fact is that the feet do it too! This is called the PLANTAR GRASP.
HICCUPS (hic-cups) are very common in newborns. They do not hurt. They come and go often and should be of little concern.
OTHER INTERESTING THINGS
This is not an all-inclusive list but there are some additional things you will encounter that are unexpected. For example, when your baby shed’s his skin for the first time.
Your baby emerged from an aquatic environment. It is only natural that the skin will go through some peely changes. This is nothing to worry about. You can rub the skin gently with petroleum jelly or coconut oil if it makes you feel better. Applying oils to the peeling skin is not a necessity. This shedding/peeling phase should only happen once. You might want to schedule the newborn photo sessions before or after this phase. More often than not, they peel between 2-3 weeks of age.
Often babies are born with pink, flat birthmarks. These are sometimes called a “Stork Bite” or an “Angle Kiss.” They usually disappear over time. Onlookers might confuse these with bruises, burns, or scrapes.
Are you concerned that your baby might have bowed legs? In a way, they do initially. They had to fit in the womb somehow. Don’t worry, they should straighten out over time. Also, the arches of the foot take some time to develop. Your baby’s legs and leg movements will be checked at each well-baby/pediatrician appointment.
Your baby will also go through an incredibly stinky stage. All babies stink now and then, but this is a specific form of stink – the rotting umbilical cord nub. Thankfully, this phase does not last too long. You might initially catch yourself wandering around the house with a wrinkled nose, trying to find the source of the rotting smell. Warning: Do not sniff the baby’s belly with gusto. Also, watch out for the dog....because he will be hanging around...waiting...for the nub to fall off.
Rashes are very common in newborns. They usually disappear on their own. If the rash is really bad, is accompanied by a fever or cough, or you have any concerns about its appearance, consult your pediatrician.
My baby’s HEAD BOBBLING had me searching the internet! Don’t be alarmed when your little bobblehead shows up. She’s just learning how to move her head around a bit. According to various online sources, babies seem to enjoy the sensation they get from the action and do it for fun. It is even more fun for them if they get a reaction from you! Head bobbling occurs a bit later than the typical newborn reflexes. I have seen a range of 7-10 months. If the movements are repetitive, occur more frequently after naps, or your baby shows other signs like spasms or lack of responsiveness, contact your pediatrician. This could be a sign of West Syndrome.
This next phase could be a bad one if not handled carefully. Right around 9-12 months, many parents notice that their baby is ...actually a pterodactyl. At this stage, babies might begin to SHRIEK AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS at what appears to be the perfect “annoy mommy and daddy” tone. This is the kind of scream headaches and earaches are made of – the kind of scream that makes your eye twitch. During this phase, a few things are helpful: food, toys, or mentally stimulating games are great to keep their mouths and minds occupied, earplugs help save your eardrums, and baby sign language. There are a few reasons for the screaming. This phase seems to coincide with the baby’s willingness to communicate more. They are doing their part to attempt communication. It is now your job to teach them how to communicate with you. If you are not driving, baby sign language works really well. (If you are driving, you may need to make a quick stop to check all of the variables: food, toy, dirty diaper, etc.) Soon your baby will realize that a simple sign will get them what they desire much faster than the scream. Mom and dad will be much happier as well. SPECIAL NOTE: Mom and dad, please be kind to each other during this phase. Use it as an opportunity for everyone to learn or remember how to communicate.
Sometimes a baby will scream because they are hearing and exploring their own voice. Other times, they simply desire attention. Are you reading your e-mail again? “SCREAM." You might need to put your electronics away and start communicating in real time. Teaching this communication process will allow both you and your baby to avoid frustration. She might be trying to say, “Momma I’m hungry.” Without sign language or another form of communication, that lovely thought might sound a lot more like, “AAAAAAEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Older children (toddlers) often scream when they are unhappy or are being denied something they want. There are various opinions on parenting that cover this area of behavior.
Similarly, when a baby tries to communicate, they may begin biting. I have personally seen this as the baby version of shouting, “No!” when squirming and squealing does not get them out of a handhold. Biting can also be a sign of teething. However, the action of purposefully biting looks quite a bit different than the exploratory gnawing action of teething. Let them know immediately that biting is not okay, or it could develop into a negative habit. Try to find a positive way to let them know biting is not okay. If you would like more information on this topic, there are plenty of resources online.
A scrunched-up nose with heavy nose breathing in and out can indicate the presence of a booger. Check it. They are learning to blow their nose. Making them aware of “boogies” in their nose, ears, and eyes helps when it comes to wiping them away. They will learn that a boogie (of whatever variety) is a minor discomfort you can make “go away."
Your baby will make many strange sounds, gurgles, and grunts. One of the things they need to learn how to do is poo. That process may not be the most comfortable thing for them to learn about initially. If your baby is grunting here and there, likely nothing is the matter. However, if you notice prolonged straining with dry or no bowel movements, consult your pediatrician right away.
On the other end of things, at some point, your baby may discover that he can make spit bubbles. This can be quite amusing to them, especially if you join in with your own.
There is another phase that a baby will pass through. Right before they begin to crawl actively, you might notice your baby rocking back and forth. They will test their balance. If this rocking action is repetitive or constant, consult with your pediatrician.
These phases, albeit strange phases, happen for a good reason. Part of the joy of being a parent is seeing some of this in action and figuring out what to do about it.
Now you are a little more prepared. Each child is different. They do not all reach milestones at the same time. If they are developing normally for themselves, that is what is important. When you have questions, there are always answers. Keep track of your questions and bring them with you to your next doctor’s visit.
While it lasts, enjoy your little peeling pterodactyl with bowed legs, flat feet, and a bobblehead. You were there too, once upon a time.