For all the wonder and joy they bring, new babies can kick up an awful lot of chaos. As parents, we joyfully bear witness to each and every incredible gain our little ones make. First smile? We meet it with applause. Rolling over? We’re ready to throw a parade.
But what about those baby habits that leave us feeling more tear-your-hair-out than congratulatory? It turns out, many of the most frustrating and annoying behaviors baby picks up in the first year are indicators that his or her development is right on track.
Wondering whether your little one’s less-than-desirable actions are par for the course? Read on.
1. Chews and Sucks on Everything
Carla W., mom to 5-month-old Harry, worries about her son’s penchant for chewing and sucking on nearly everything. “It doesn’t matter what it is — a toy, his fingers, my fingers — it’s in his mouth almost immediately,” she said. “Is this normal? Does he have some sort of sensory issue?”
To help put this mom’s mind at ease, we turned to developmental therapist Emily Patillo. She assured us that Harry sounds like he is right on track. “The senses of the mouth mature first for babies,” Patillo explained. “So, when babies bring objects to their mouths, they’re receiving a lot of information about that particular toy in terms of how it feels.”
For babies, Patillo reassured, mouthing objects is one of the best way for them to explore and learn. To help support your little one’s development in this area, she encourages new parents to offer plenty of opportunities for play with appropriate and safe toys. Sure, things can get slobbery, but allow baby to learn about each object through chewing and chomping. Look for toys with varying textures, weights, and feels to stimulate baby’s senses. And remember, if a toy is small enough to fit through a toilet paper roll, it’s too small for baby and poses a choking risk.
2. Tosses Toys from the Highchair
For many new parents, introducing the highchair kickstarts baby’s most annoying habit: hurling every item from the tray onto the floor. “I can either make dinner or I can constantly retrieve toys,” Rachel C., mom to 9-month-old Teddy, told us. “What is this about and how can I make it stop?”
While this new habit may make for frustrating meal times, babies are practicing some incredible skills. “There’s a lot at play here,” explained Patillo. “First, baby is exploring a concept known as object permanence, where he or she begins to understand that objects exist even when not in direct sight. When baby starts leaning over the side to find that toy she tossed, you’ll know she’s learning this concept.”
But babies are also practicing a very early problem-solving skill: cause and effect. With every toy they toss, they’re learning that they have this incredible ability to push a toy to the floor and produce a noise, and maybe a bounce or roll.
“Think about babies as tiny scientists. They want to experiment and discover the world around them,” encouraged Patillo. If you’re finding yourself exhausted from baby’s new highchair habit, know first that this is a completely normal stage of development. It’s just another way your baby is learning and discovering.
Next, give yourself a break by safely tethering toys to the chair. This won’t stop baby from hurling it over the side, but it will make retrieval infinitely easier on you. You can also look to sticky silicone bowls and mats that promise to stay put for mealtime.
3. Swats and Scratches
Who amongst us hasn’t had our nose scratched or hair pulled while attempting to snuggle a young baby? “Swatting is not an aggressive behavior, as one parent I work with recently suggested,” Patillo said. “If I hit someone in the face, I expect that action to be read as aggressive. But babies are not adults and they do not have adequate control in their arms and hands to always have gentle touches.”
Help babies work on gaining more control of their hands and arms. You can do this by offering ample opportunity for reaching and grasping. Lay baby down with a toy just out of comfortable reach, encouraging your little one to bring the toy closer. You can also coax baby into practicing more precise movements like picking up small pieces of soft foods between their fingers if the baby has the green light to start on solids.
4. Gets Distracted While Nursing
If your nursing baby seems more interested in your surroundings than getting to the business of breastfeeding, you’re not alone. In fact, most babies around the 6-9 month mark will begin pulling off the breast to examine the source of a sound or passing shadow. Everything, it seems, from older sibling to sirens to doorbell finds baby abruptly ending a nursing session to investigate.
No, baby is not signaling the end of breastfeeding — but coming out of this stage with your milk supply in tact does require some changes on your part. First, simply understand that distracted nursing is part and parcel for infant brain development. Suddenly, your little one is more aware of her environment and is eager to see what’s going on around her. While baby is still very young, she must look to understand a sound. Soon, she can register that same sound without pulling off the breast to investigate where it came from.
To survive this stage, remain calm. It doesn’t last forever. If possible, avoid nursing in a busy environment. Turn off the television. Dim the lights. Use white noise. Try for at least five minutes of continuous nursing on each breast. If needed, offer an extra nursing session during the day and try pumping for 10-15 minutes to empty the breast. When in doubt, a certified lactation consultant can be a veritable magician, helping to solve even the trickiest breastfeeding issues.