baby · child development · parenting

Why Doesn’t My Baby Blink?

This morning was my turn to get up with Little Man and, in a rare and excellent turn of events, he didn’t wake up until 7am. We were both in a good mood when my husband came downstairs to join us an hour later, and we all started playing together on the floor. At one point my husband jokingly said to Little Man “Blink if mummy’s being difficult!” and I cracked up – I knew I was safe because Little Man just. doesn’t. blink. And he’s not alone – hardly blinking is one of those weird developmental things that’s actually normal for babies. But why don’t babies blink much, compared to adults?

why don't babies blink once or twice a minute slow compared to adults the sickly mama blog parenting

Why doesn’t my baby blink?

How often do babies blink?

If you’ve spent much time around babies, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t blink much. This actually freaked me out slightly when I was still in hospital just after Little Man was born and I realised he wouldn’t blink for what felt like incredibly long amounts of time. Fortunately, a quick Google told me that it was totally normal. In fact, babies often only blink around once or twice a minute. When you consider that adults blink around fifteen times a minute, that’s a pretty huge difference.

Why do we need to blink in the first place?

Apparently, blinking is still a bit of a mystery to science, which is a mad thought given that there are billions of humans walking around on the surface of the planet blinking 21,600 times a day each. In fact, we blink so often that adults actually spend around 10% of our waking hours with our eyes shut.

Blinking serves a variety of purposes:

  • Lubricating the eyeball by renewing your tear film, which not only nourishes the cornea, but also helps ensure a smooth optical surface to let your eyes see clearly.
  • Clearing away dust particles and any other debris from the eye.
  • Scientists now think that blinking may have a role in allowing your brain to get brief mental respites that help you to concentrate more effectively.

So… why don’t babies need to blink much?

Babies’ eyes presumably need to stay moist just like adult eyes. So why don’t babies need to blink as much as adults?

It’s been suggested that because babies sleep so much, they don’t need to blink as much, as they spend so much time with their eyes shut. Babies’ eyes actually don’t even make tears for the first month of life. Babies also have smaller eye openings than adults, proportionate to the overall size of their eyes. As a result, they might just not need as much eye lubrication as adults.

Alternatively, it’s also been suggested that babies may blink less because they need to focus more in order to take in all the visual information they’re receiving, so they can’t afford to take the short mental breaks that blinking affords to adults. Or that it may be related to babies’ underdeveloped dopamine systems.

So… What does all that mean?

As is so often the case when I’m writing about baby and child development on this blog, the answer seems to be: we don’t really know why babies don’t blink as much as adults. But the take-home message is: it’s totally normal for your baby not to blink much, so don’t worry.

why don't babies blink the sickly mama blog why doesn't my baby blink adults eyes
baby · child development · health · parenting

Why Does My Baby Shake With Excitement?

Recently I’ve noticed that when Little Man gets excited, he goes through a very specific set of behaviours. He will raise both arms up and out wide, lean in with wide eyes, and start shaking. This could happen over a new and exciting toy, a new experience (such as when we first took him to the seaside and dipped his toes in the ocean), or even a new food. It’s such a rapid shaking, it’s almost like he’s vibrating with excitement. This got us a bit worried… Why does my baby shake so much when he gets excited?

Shaking when excited

We’ve all heard the phrase “shaking with excitement”, but I have to admit I assumed it was a metaphor until I had a baby. It’s almost as if he gets so excited that he just can’t contain himself! Now, I know that babies do lots of things that seem weird (like staring at lights, or crawling backwards) but are actually totally normal. So, is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?

Is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?

Yes! It’s very common. It’s to do with baby’s immature nervous system. Their developing nervous system sends too many electrical impulses to the muscles and they get all twitchy. It’s normal for babies to shake with excitement, when they see someone they know or a favourite toy. This can present in lots of different ways – for instance, full-body shakes, or baby may clench his fists and shake, or tense up his whole body when excited.

Some babies may also display shuddering or shaking at seemingly random times, when there’s no particular reason for them to be excited, and sometimes it can last for a few seconds. No-one really completely understands the cause of this infant shuddering, but it’s not harmful and usually goes away by the time they’re four years old. Sometimes it’s referred to as infant shudder syndrome, shuddering attacks, or shuddering spells.

If baby is otherwise healthy, developing well and meeting his or her milestones, then there’s probably nothing to worry about if he or she tends to shake with excitement. Life is just that exciting when everything’s new! There’s no treatment for infant shudder syndrome, because it’s not an illness – it just goes away over time.

However, of course it can look a bit peculiar, and as a parent you may worry that it looks like your child having a short fit. If you’re worried, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and speak to a medical professional.

When to get worried about baby’s shaking movements

Of course, as parents it’s natural to worry. Shaking can be evidence of a seizure, but there are some specific seizure warning signs to look out for:

  • If shaking continues for over 20 seconds
  • If the shaking movement is accompanied by vomiting, unusual eye movements, or loss of consciousness
  • If it’s associated with illness or injury, or if baby sleeps for a long time afterwards

If you notice any of these signs, you should seek medical help urgently.

Ultimately, you know your baby best, so even if you don’t spot any of the warning signs, if you think it’s time to call the doctor or NHS 111, then do it. It may help (if you think of it at the time) to take a video of the shaking behaviour that’s worrying you, to show your health professional.

Is baby shaking when excited a sign of autism?

When I got onto Google and started researching about babies shaking with excitement and infant shudder syndrome, it was clear to me from the Google search bar that lots of parents who are researching this subject are worried that their baby’s shaking or shuddering could be a sign of autism. This is probably because some people with autism use repetitive or rhythmic movements to soothe themselves, and this can take the form of shaking or hand flapping.

However, these kind of behaviours are also common with neurotypical children, so just because your baby or toddler shakes with excitement or flaps his or her hands, doesn’t mean that it’s a sign of autism. There are other early markers of autism which are more reliable as red flags that something could be wrong, such as a lack of eye contact or smiling. Again though, you know your baby best – so if you’re concerned that something is wrong, talk to your doctor.

Other causes of shuddering or shaking in babies

There are other reasons that babies may display shaking or shuddering movements, beyond excitement, infant shudder syndrome, or epilepsy. Babies and toddlers often shake their heads from side to side when falling asleep – it can actually be a motion they use to help themselves fall asleep (not that it looks very restful, especially when they start head-banging!), or a sign of teething or even an ear infection.

There’s also some suggestion that infant shudder syndrome could be an early sign of vitamin d deficiency in very young babies, so if you’re exclusively breastfeeding make sure that baby is getting their vitamin D drops in line with NHS guidance (babies who are formula fed get their vitamin supplements from the formula, so they don’t need any more).

In conclusion…

So, in conclusion… there are loads of reasons your baby may shake or shudder, but if he or she is specifically displaying this behaviour when excited, it’s probably nothing to worry about. In some situations, continued shaking or shuddering could be a cause for concern though, so exercise your best judgement as a parent, err on the side of caution, and check with a doctor if you think you need to.

why does my baby shake with excitement is it normal
baby · child development · parenting · sleeping

The Sleep Regression At 8 Months

When Little Man was about 7 1/2 months old, we went to visit my parents. As they live a couple of hours away, this involved staying over. The little chap slept quite badly the whole weekend, but we weren’t especially surprised as he was in his travel cot which is still an unfamiliar bed for him. But when we got home, he continued to sleep badly even in his own cot. After a week of frequent wake-ups at night, I wondered whether he could be going through a sleep regression.

What is sleep regression in babies?

A sleep regression basically is what it says on the tin: a period of time (usually 3 – 6 weeks) where a baby starts sleeping worse with more wake-ups during the night, and/or trouble settling down to sleep.

Sleep regressions are particularly associated with developmental milestones and growth spurts, so there are some ages when you can more or less expect a patch of bad sleep to come along… And yep, 8 months is one of those ages!

When does sleep regression happen?

Most babies go through their first sleep regression around four months old, which is caused by changes in your baby’s sleep cycles, moving towards a more adult sleeping pattern. We actually didn’t notice that one though! At four months old, Little Man was sleeping so badly anyway that we were already up with him at least 15 times a night thanks to his tummy and colic… So there wasn’t really any capacity for his sleep to get any worse. There’s a strange sort of silver lining…

The next sleep regression is around eight months, although really it can happen any time in the seven to ten months range. And that’s where we’re currently at!

Our experience of the eight month sleep regression

It’s been a mixed bag so far! Little Man has sometimes had trouble settling to sleep at night, and often has been waking up fussing multiple times per night – we’d got used to him only waking once for a feed (or sometimes not at all!) so that has felt like a bit of a shock to the system.

This eight month sleep regression coincided quite closely with Little Man starting to crawl forwards and pull himself up on things. This is apparently often associated with sleep regression, as is the start of separation anxiety, commonly experienced around eight months.

In general I’ve noticed issues much more at night than with his daytime naps, although we have had a couple of incidents of naptime meltdowns and nap refusal. In fact, overall I’d say he’s actually been napping longer during the day (presumably to make up for the night time deficit!). However at times he is doing two very very long naps rather than three shorter naps in one day. That can be difficult to predict, and it’s often difficult to know whether or not he will want a third nap!

We’re probably almost four weeks in and things are just starting to improve again, which is positive. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re back to getting a reasonable night’s sleep most nights…

Tips For Parents

So what are my tips for sleep regression? I guess focus on the positives: although Little Man is waking up much more than he was a month ago, it’s still nowhere near as bad as he was around 5 months old with his colic, or in the very early newborn stage when they need to feed constantly.

I’ve also written previously about our white noise machine and how useful it is at soothing Little Man to sleep. It’s also something I’d recommend to any parents going through a sleep regression! The white noise owl has a noise sensor, and it turns the nose on automatically if it senses baby making noise in the night. This has been so invaluable over the last few weeks – sometimes I’ve been woken by the sound of Little Man fussing in the night, but once his white noise comes on, he’s happily settled back down to sleep and I’ve not needed to get up at all! Of course, it doesn’t work every time, but I definitely recommend getting a white noise machine if you don’t have one.

eight month sleep regression in babies how long does it last
baby · child development · parenting

Choosing Whether To Use A Dummy (Pacifier) For Your Baby

Before we had our son, my husband and I went to ante-natal classes. The main thing we got from them was a lovely social circle of other expectant parents, but the second useful outcome was the fact that it prompted lots of useful discussions that we probably wouldn’t have thought to have otherwise.

One of these was about dummies (or pacifiers, if you’re an American reader), and whether to use them. After one class, on the drive home, when it came to discussing our feelings on this potentially controversial topic, we looked at each other and pretty much shrugged. Neither of us really had strong feelings one way or the other about whether or not to use a dummy. We concluded we would just see what happened…

How we ended up using a dummy

In the end, the decision was more or less made for us. Little Man ended up in neonatal intensive care (NICU) for several days, with a very bad case of jaundice. Dummies are commonly used in NICU, especially for premature babies, as dummy use helps to soothe babies and develop their sucking reflex.

When Little Man was first rushed into intensive care, I was asked if he could have a dummy. I said yes straightaway. We weren’t allowed to hold him as he had to stay under the phototherapy lights, to reduce his bilirubin levels, he was covered in wires and tubes with a mask over his face. So I was very keen for him to have anything he might find comforting, and agreeing to the dummy was an easy decision.

Once he left intensive care, he kept the dummy he had been given, as we could see that it was something he found soothing. And he’s used a dummy ever since.

What are the benefits?

Dummies help a baby satisfy their sucking instincts. Because I wasn’t able to breastfeed, this was especially important to us. The sucking reflex is soothing and helps Little Man fall asleep – we find that he resists sleep much longer without a dummy.

There’s also a slightly reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in babies who use a dummy during sleeping and naptimes, although the reasons for this aren’t fully understood.

For us as a family, I’d say there are three further benefits that you don’t usually read about in lists of dummy advantages/disadvantages: firstly, the dummy seems to be soothing for Little Man when he’s teething. Secondly, it’s been good for his fine motor skills as he’s always trying to pick it up, hold it, and manipulate it to get it in his mouth and chew on. And thirdly, I’ve got to be honest and say that Little Man is a VERY LOUD baby. He obviously screams when he’s upset, like all babies, but he also screams when he’s happy, or when he’s just bored. Having a dummy to hand can help to reduce the cacophony…

What are the disadvantages?

Using a dummy does have some potential disadvantages. They’re hard to keep scrupulously clean so can transport bacteria and germs to your baby’s mouth. There is evidence of increased rates of some minor infections in babies who use dummies.

It’s recommended not to give babies a dummy until they are a couple of months old and breastfeeding is well established. Dummy use may interfere with breastfeeding and is associated with a reduced rate of breastfeeding at 3 months of age. As I wasn’t able to breastfeed anyway, this was less of a concern for us, which I’m sure does make it an easier choice.

There are also concerns that prolonged dummy use can have negative effects on your child’s growing teeth.

How to decide whether or not to use a dummy?

Some people seem to have pretty strong opinions on dummies one way or the other… But then, that’s probably true on most decisions you make as a parent. Ultimately, it’s your choice (and you’re allowed to change your mind, as well). Not all babies are interested in dummies, while others really love theirs. There’s no right or wrong answer either way – the main thing that matters is what works for you and your baby.

how to choose whether or not to use a dummy pacifier for your baby
baby · child development · Just for fun · parenting

Inventions All New Parents Need

Since becoming a parent, it’s become clear to me that the inventors of the world really need to get cracking and design some new products for new parents. Forget baby monitors and nappy bins. I’ve come up with a list of the top inventions for new parents… that haven’t been invented yet!

Snoozetime Indicator

When you put baby in his or her cot for a nap, wouldn’t it be great to know whether they’re going to sleep for an hour or drag you back with a full-scale meltdown in five minutes time? The number of times I have assumed that wee man would only nap for half an hour and then he actually sleeps for three times as long, and I just think of all the useful things I would have done, if only I’d known I had the time (let’s be honest… I would have napped).

A Pause Button

You know when you’re halfway through feeding the baby, and the doorbell rings? What you need is the option to press pause on baby and leave the room, safe in the knowledge that nothing can go wrong. Plus, when they’re screaming the house down, you could just take a break with a nice cuppa.

An Automated Burping Machine

You know those machines that promise to help you lose weight by vibrating the fat away? Surely someone could repurpose this Ultra Powerful Professional Vibration Massage Trainer into a machine that gives baby a little jiggle and shakes all the burps out in one super-efficient go?

Early Warning Poo Alarm

Wouldn’t it be so helpful to have a two minute advance warning that baby was about to poop? Then you could remove them from your lap when you’re wearing that lovely white dress. Ideally, this would also come with a built-in seismometer telling you how severe a bumquake to expect, and whether or not the nappy defences are likely to hold.

What inventions for new parents would you find most useful with your little one? Let me know in the comments!

baby · child development · parenting

Why Is My Baby Crawling Backwards?

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t, you should – @sicklymama), you will have seen that Little Man has started crawling. There’s just one problem… My baby is crawling backwards. And he doesn’t mean to. He’s trying to go forwards.

So he gets very angry as he tries to reach a toy or something in front of him, and instead finds it getting further and further away.

Another novel approach that he has taken to attempting to crawl is the “skydiving pose“, where he lies on the floor and lifts all his hands and legs off the ground at the same time. Not sure how he thinks that this is going to result in locomotion, but he does get very frustrated when it does not.

Now, I posted about this on Instagram and other mums commented that their babies had also crawled backwards before going forwards, which was reassuring as I had been concerned that my baby was quite literally backwards. So, of course, I did some Googling. I always love learning about child and baby development!

Why is my baby crawling backwards?

The internet suggests that babies tend to crawl backwards first when they feel stronger on their arms than their legs. It’s interesting because I’m sure this is not the case for Little Man. His legs are super strong and he’s able to support his own weight standing with just a little help from mum or dad to steady his balance. About two months ago, we thought the main thing standing in his way was his lack of upper body strength, ironically.

But he hasn’t worked out yet how to put power down through his legs when trying to crawl. They just sort of flail wildly behind him, usually in the air. He sort of reminds me of a penguin, the way they scoot along on their bellies.

Is it normal for my baby to crawl backwards instead of forwards?

All the baby sites say not to worry about backwards crawling, or even if baby skips crawling altogether. So if your baby crawls backwards but not forwards, don’t worry! It’s totally normal and, let’s be honest, slightly hilarious.

We’ll just wait and see if Little Man works out how to go forwards, or if he just decides to make the most of going backwards…

How long will my baby crawl backwards for?

Update! I’ve come back to this post a few months down the line. I’m writing this in early September – Little Man is now crawling forwards and has already started pulling himself up and trying to walk. But in case anyone reading this is wondering how long baby will crawl backwards for, I thought I’d share an update. Little Man ended up crawling backwards for around 6 – 8 weeks (between the age of 5 month sand 7 months) before he cracked it and finally started going forwards. That’s not too say that it would be the same for your baby, but just to give you an idea!

why is my baby crawling backwards the sickly mama blog
baby · child development · parenting

Why Is My Baby’s Hair Falling Out?

When Little Man was born and they handed him to me for his first cuddle, one of the first things that really struck me was his hair. He had a pretty good head of hair for a newborn, but the thing that really surprised me was how wavy it was. I was convinced that when it grew longer he would have a head of lovely corkscrew curls.

For the first couple of months, debate raged about what colour his hair was. Blonde? Ginger? Strawberry blonde? There are several redheads in the family, who were pretty invested in the idea of him joining their number.

And then… The hair on one side of Little Man’s head started disappearing. Then the hair on the other side. And finally the hair on top. It’s now grown back to about it’s original thickness – but it’s much blonder, and straighter. It looks totally different, except for right at the nape of his neck, where there’s a little patch of wavy ginger hair still hanging on. See below for photos!

why is baby's hair falling out before and after photos the sickly mama
Little Man’s hair – before and after

So… What the heck happened? Why was my baby’s hair falling out, and why did it grow back different? I love finding out about child and baby development, so I had to get a’Googling!

Why does babies’ hair fall out?

It’s totally normal for babies to lose all the hair they were born with, during the first six months. It’s thought that this is to do with changing hormones inside their body once they’re no longer sharing mum’s pregnancy hormones. In fact, baby’s hairloss may be caused by the same hormonal shift that causes post-partum hairloss for mum.

Baby’s hair falling out can also be affected by sleeping position, from the friction of baby’s head rubbing against mattresses etc. That’s probably why Little Man lost the hair on his right side first – he much prefers to sleep on that side.

How long before baby’s hair grows back?

Baby’s hair will grow back, but when that happens varies from child to child. Some babies have a full new head of hair by six months, while for others it can take until as late as three years old. For some babies, the hair grows back as it’s falling out, so you may not even notice much of a change.

Most experts agree that by the end of the first year, most of baby’s lost hair will have grown back.

Why does my baby’s hair look different now it’s grown back?

I haven’t been able to find the answer to this one! Lots of sites note that baby hair often grows back a different texture/colour/both, but are silent about why this happens. Do you know? Let me know in the comments!

baby · child development · parenting · sleeping

Why Do Babies Love White Noise?

Before Little Man was born, my lovely sister gave us a gift of an Ollie the Owl. If you’re not familiar with the strigiforme in question, it’s marketed as a ‘light and sound sleep aid’ for babies. It plays lullabies, white noise, or the sound of a heartbeat or running water, to help babies get to sleep, and it has a ‘cry sensor’ that puts the noise back on if they wake up or stir.

When we first tried Ollie (now known in our household as Mr Owl… What can I say, we’re very formal people), we were amazed at how well Little Man went to sleep with the sound on, in particular the white noise sound. Now, he’s a bedtime and naptime regular! But why do babies love white noise? And does it really help them sleep? I love finding out about child and baby development, so I had to get on Google.

Why Do Babies Love White Noise?

White Noise = Womb Noise

The general consensus seems to be that white noise mimics the kind of noise that babies hear in the womb. The uterus is actually a surprisingly noisy place for baby. A study found noise levels of 72 – 88 decibels in the womb, which is classed as “loud” by the American Academy of Audiology, and equivalent to the noise produced by alarm clocks, traffic or vacuum cleaners.

A lot of noise is produced by the mother’s heart, intestines and circulatory system, and the foetus can also hear external sounds as well. One study has even suggested that our early exposure to our mother’s bodily noises may be the root cause of our attraction to the sound of waves at the beach, as well as our innate sense of rhythm.

So when baby comes into the world, things suddenly get a lot quieter. White noise machines help to mimic that background noise of the womb, and help them to feel soothed.

baby · child development · colic · food · parenting

Why We’re Trying Lactose Free Formula

So as regular readers will know, Little Man has been having a lot of tummy trouble recently, and it’s just been getting worse. He’s really windy but struggles to get the wind out, and it’s been keeping him up at night and waking him up regularly when he does manage to sleep. He’s also had a bit of constipation, despite our efforts to keep him well hydrated. We’ve tried everything we can think of – changing his formula, using infant colic drops, making sure to burp him and wind him regularly, etc etc. But nothing seems to make much of a difference.

As a result, it’s been a tough few weeks, especially combined with his teething issues. Little Man has gone from sleeping through til about 3/4am and then having a slightly fitful sleep after that, to more or less having a fitful sleep through the whole night. Some nights I’ve been up with him much more often than every hour. So he’s been super grumpy, and to be honest, so have I!

So we went to the doctor’s and they recommended changing formula. As we’d already changed formula once, they suggested trying a lactose-free formula. Apparently if it does work, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Little Man is lactose intolerant, but the change might be helpful for him. I guess a lactose free formula is about as big a change as you can have!

So we’re crossing our fingers a) that it works, and b) that he’s not actually got a lactose intolerance! Apparently some babies develop temporary lactose intolerance after tummy upsets or if they were born prematurely, and it can be something they grow out of. Little Man did have some issues with some kind of tummy bug which really upset his stomach a while ago, so it’s not impossible that this could have caused a temporary intolerance which just hasn’t settled yet. I’ll keep you updated on our progress and how he gets on with his lactose free formula!

why we're trying lactose free formula milk the sickly mama blog baby colic
baby · child development · colic · parenting

Why Are Babies’ Digestive Systems So Utterly Useless?

I can’t be the only parent who has looked at their beloved baby, covered in vomit at 4am after waking up crying because of trapped wind, and wondered… Why are babies born with such completely useless digestive systems? Are we the only mammal this bad at eating and pooping? Do baby monkeys get colic? And when will my child finally be able to get through a day without continuously leaking milk curds from the sides of his mouth like a pint-sized Vesuvius?

Reflux and Spitting Up

In young babies, the lower oesophageal sphincter, which separates the stomach from the oesophagus, is weak and immature, and consequently does a terrible job of keeping the contents of baby’s stomach where they’re supposed to be.

Additionally, it can take a while before baby’s stomach gets into the swing of it’s normal squeezing pattern, meaning that milk may sit in the stomach longer than normal.

The good news is that reflux should subside in around four to twelve months!

Painful Wind

Babies are rubbish at eating properly, so they take in a lot of air when feeding. Then because they just lie around like lazy little beached porpoises all day, they can’t easily eliminate the gas via the normal route of burps and farts.

Tiny bubbles of gas then cause pressure and stomach pain. And that causes very grumpy babies. Here’s the irony: crying babies also often take in excess air. Which causes gassy pain. Which causes more crying. You see where I’m going with this. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

In theory, this should improve around 3 – 4 months of age, or when the baby starts rolling on his own, as this helps to get the gas out.

Tummy Upsets

Humans are supposed to have a (delightfully named) “digestive mucosal lining” or layer of mucous, which protects their digestive tract from microbes and other contaminants in food. In babies, this layer is thin and does a bad job at protecting their gastrointestinal tract from infection.

Weaning

Current recommendations are to avoid weaning babies until they are about six months old. Why? I found it really interesting to read about this:

  • Babies can’t produce digestive enzymes to digest starches until they’re six months old.
  • They don’t produce enough enzymes to digest complex carbohydrates until nearly seven months.
  • Their bile and lipase for digesting fats don’t reach full levels until six months.
  • Until about six months, babies’ guts allow large molecules to pass directly into the bloodstream. This is to allow antibodies from mum’s breastmilk to pass into baby’s blood. But it also allows larger molecules from solid food through, which could create a risk of infection or allergy.

Little Man has had a bad tummy ever since we got him home from hospital. I think a lot of it is due to him taking in air when he eats, because when he was in intensive care and then on the ward with me, we fed him through a naso-gastric tube, and he didn’t vomit as much or have anything like as much trouble with his tummy. Can’t wait until it all settles down, but it doesnt seem like it will be happening any time soon…