10 Signs Baby Loves You
You know you’ve had your moments of wondering—are all these sleepless nights, made-up lullabies and silly one-sided conversations really appreciated? Unlike your boss, baby doesn’t fill out performance evaluations, and unlike your partner, they’re certainly not ready to tell you those three little words just yet. But if you read between the lines, you’ll see some pretty strong signs that baby loves you and thinks you’re doing just fine.
You know those moments when baby gazes deep into your eyes, kind of like they’re trying to see your soul? That’s a sign baby’s attracted to you, and trying to get to know you even better.
“Newborns don’t have very good eyesight,” says Pete Stavinoha, PhD, a child neuropsychologist in Houston, Texas. “But they will orient toward your face, and when you hold them, they can make out the form of your face and see your biggest features—eyes and nose and mouth.”
Newborns (as well as older babies) will even try to copy your facial expressions. If you’ve captured baby’s gaze, try sticking out your tongue. There’s a good chance they will too, and all that monkey-see, monkey-do helps baby feel close to you.
Did you know that babies can hear sounds in utero as early as 20 weeks into pregnancy? And their heart rates slow when they hear their mothers talking? Yup, even before birth, your voice is a comfortable, soothing sound for your child, and baby would rather hear you than anyone else on the planet.
That’s why even very young babies will turn toward a familiar sound (as opposed to a strange one). In other words, if you and your mother are talking while she holds your little one, baby will probably turn their head toward you when you speak, even though it’s Grandma who’s holding them. Already, baby knows you’re the one who’s always there for them, and that head-turning shows it.
Baby thinks you smell amazing (yes, really—even if you didn’t have time to shower today). Numerous research studies have shown that babies can identify their mothers by smell alone. In one study, newborns were presented breast pads that had been saturated with human milk. The babies made more mouthing motions when they were sniffing the pads that contained their own mom’s milk. And your smell—unlike the smell of other nice but unfamiliar women—is particularly comforting to baby.
You have a unique ability to comfort baby. And while you might not always be able to tell that baby prefers to hear, smell and see you, you can certainly feel the way baby relaxes in your arms when you hold them. Take that as the ultimate compliment!
On the other hand, some babies aren’t as easily soothed as others—chalk it up to personality. If baby doesn’t immediately calm down in your arms, their fussiness doesn’t mean they hate you—it just means you haven’t figured out what they need or want yet. Give yourself time. Learning what calms baby is a process of trial and error. You’ll get it right eventually, and believe it or not, baby loves the fact that you’re trying.
No, it’s not just gas. Somewhere around 2 months of age, baby will look at you and flash a full-on smile that’s guaranteed to make your heart swell. Doctors call that kind of smile a “social smile” and describe it as one that’s “either a reaction, or trying to elicit a reaction,” Stavinoha says. In other words, baby is interacting with you! Keep the fun going by smiling back. When you smile at baby and baby smiles back, you’re cementing your relationship, smile by smile.
Shortly after baby’s first social smile, they’ll start trying to chat with you. It won’t be the kind of chat you enjoy with your friends, but it’ll make you just as happy. Those coos are often just breathy vowel sounds that don’t sound much like words at all—but if you make the same noises back at baby, you two just might start a “conversation.”
As baby interacts verbally with you and develops their speaking skills by listening to you and copying your words, it’s just another way of showing just how much they love you.
By 6 months or so, babies are perfectly capable of telling the difference between nice people and the best, most wonderful people on the planet (you and your partner). Baby may be completely content in your best friend’s arms—but will wiggle happily when they hear you enter the room. “Basically, what’s happening is that babies discriminate among very familiar attached figures in their life versus others who might be perfectly nice and fine, but not attachment figures,” Stavinoha says. In other words, that’s more proof baby really does love you. Baby might like other people, but no one is as special to them as their parents—and you can see it in baby’s eyes.
“There’s nothing greater than a baby’s belly laugh,” Stavinoha says, and most parents would agree. The sound of baby’s giggles—in response to something you just did—is probably one of your favorite sounds. Of course, other people can make baby laugh. But no one knows them like you do. You know exactly how baby likes to be tickled on the tummy, or that blowing in their face causes an eruption of laughter. After a while, baby will figure out that you know what they like and may even begin to laugh in anticipation of your touch or antics. That’s a true connection!
This one isn’t so fun. Sometime between 9 months and one year, most babies begin to cry when they’re dropped off at daycare or left with a babysitter (even if the babysitter is Grandma). And while it’s tough to hear baby cry, know that those tears are a definite sign of love. Baby already knows that you care for them, and for a small period, they may worry you might never come back. (Try not to feel guilty about it—in time, baby will learn that you always return.) And right now, those cries signify your importance in their life. You’re so special to baby that they can’t even imagine life without you. (Rest assured, they’ll settle down shortly after you leave.)
Older babies are built to explore. Once baby begins to crawl, they’ll probably seem to be everywhere at once! But have you noticed how frequently baby returns to your side? Or that baby looks to you for reassurance when they’re in an unfamiliar situation? What might look like insecurity is actually a sign of a very healthy attachment, Stavinoha explains. “That checking-in behavior is a healthy, normal thing to do,” he says. “The child is starting to venture out and establish their independence a little bit, but Mom and Dad still represent safety and security.”
Think of yourself as home base. Your child is now ready to explore the world but needs to know that you’re nearby in case they need some hugs and kisses. If that’s not love, what is?
Pete Stavinoha, PhD, is a child neuropsychologist in Houston, Texas. He currently serves as a professor of behavioral pediatrics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Previously, he directed the neuropsychology service and postdoctoral training program in clinical neuropsychology at Children’s Medical Center and was a professor in psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.