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 he or she’s 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 likes you (actually, loves you) and thinks you’re doing just fine, mom.
Sign #1: Eye contact
You know those moments when baby gazes deep into your eyes (kind of like he or she’s 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 at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. “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 he or she will too, and all that monkey-see, monkey-do helps baby feel close to you.
Sign #2: Turning toward you
Did you know that babies can hear sounds as early as 20 weeks into pregnancy? And unborn babies’ 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 baby, baby will probably turn his or her head toward you when you speak, even though it’s grandma who’s holding him or her. Already, baby knows you’re the one who’s always there for him or her, and that head turning shows it.
Sign #3: Opening his or her mouth
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.
Sign #4: Melting in your arms
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 him or her. 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, his or her fussiness doesn’t mean baby hates you—it just means that you haven’t figured out what he or she needs or wants 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.
Sign #5: Smiles, of course!
No, it’s not just gas. Somewhere between 6 weeks and 3 months, baby will look at you and flash a full-on smile that’s guaranteed to make even the most cynical mother's 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.
Sign #6: Cooing and babbling
Shortly after baby’s first social smile—usually sometime around 2 months—he or she will start trying to chat with you. It won’t be the kind of chat you enjoy with your girlfriends, 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 his or her speaking skills by listening to you and copying your words, it's just another way of showing just how much he or she loves you.
Sign #7: “Lighting up” when you enter the room
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 he or she hears 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 him or her as mommy and daddy—and you can see it in baby's eyes.
Sign #8: Laughing
“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 him or her like you do. You know exactly how baby likes to be tickled on the tummy, or that blowing in his or her face causes an eruption of laughter. After a while, baby will figure out that you know what he or she likes, and may even begin to laugh in anticipation of your touch or antics. That’s a true connection!
Sign #9: Separation anxiety
This one isn’t so fun. Sometime between 9 months and one year, most babies begin to cry when they’re dropped off at day care 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 him or her, and for a small period, he or she may worry you might never come back. (Try not to have a mom-guilt freak-out about it—in time, baby will learn that you always return.) And right now, those cries signify your importance in his or her life. You’re so special to baby that he or she can’t even imagine life without you. (And rest assured that he or she will settle down shortly after you leave.)
Sign #10: Checking in
Older babies are built to explore. Once baby begins to crawl, he or she will 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 he or she’s 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 her 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 he or she needs some hugs and kisses. If that’s not love, what is?
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