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How to Read Your Baby

Surprise and Distress

What surprise looks like:

Eyebrows go up; eyes are wide open and blinking; mouth forms an "o" shape.

What it means: Surprise is really an evolutionary tool that increases brain activity and alerts people to possible dangers. A baby's surprise (caused by the loud dropping of a book, for example), can transform into either fear or interest, depending in part on your reaction. If you respond calmly, saying, "Oops, the book dropped! It makes a loud noise, doesn't it?" or even laugh about the noise and playfully drop it again, your baby is likely to take interest in the event. If you act disturbed by the dropping of the book or ignore it altogether, your baby might feel uncertain and scared.

What distress looks like:

Baby is crying with rhythmic sobbing; eyebrows are arched; corners of the mouth are turned down.

What it means: Distress, of course, is an S.O.S. that something is wrong, says Dr. Holinger. Your baby is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. If her distress is ignored, your baby will become angry. If it is regularly ignored, she may learn to distrust her caregivers.