"My Baby Made Me Do It!"
Mommy see, Mommy do
Attentive parents and caregivers often mimic their babies as much as, if not more than, the other way around. Some may snicker at the sight of a big, burly man "goo-gooing" and "wuu-ahhing" with an infant on his lap, but child-development experts couldn't be more pleased.
"It's a characteristic of a responsive parent to realize that a baby has the skills to drive interactions and then allow that infant to take the lead," says Colombo. "When a baby makes a sound and that sound comes back to her, it provides her with a sense of control over her environment." Similarly, following the lead of a baby's actions -- smiling when she smiles, touching an object she touches, pointing where she points -- lets her know that she has the power both to communicate and make things happen.
Even more universal than oogling and goo-gooing is the instinct to sway while holding a fussy or sleepy baby. It appears that, in part, gentle motion activates a baby's vestibular system -- the innate sense that lets us know where we are in space.
Although most people picture rocking a baby as something done side to side (the way a child rocks a doll), at least one study shows that an up-and-down motion proves more effective, especially with newborns. "We find that the best way to console a crying newborn is to hold him upright on your shoulder, then bend and straighten your knees so he moves in a vertical direction," says Colombo.