Category Archives: BABY RESEARCH

research studies on babies and infants


Park, Alice.  “Exercise During Pregnancy May Boost Babies’ Brain Activity,” Time, November 11, 2013.

Time magazine’s Health & Family section featured an article on the positive effects of exercise during pregnancy.  According to Alice Park, this is the first study to connect mom’s exercise with baby’s brain function.  This study is significant because many people think that while pregnant it is best to “take it easy.” Although some medical issues require extra rest, research is starting show the benefits of maternal exercise during the pregnancy period.  Always consult your doctor for guidelines for keeping your exercise from being too strenuous during pregnancy.


Scientists at the University of Montreal tested the brain function of days old infants by sticking 124 electrodes on the babies’ heads.  While the infants slept the researchers monitored how their brains processed sounds.  Researchers concluded that the babies’ brains showed a maturity of function only 8-12 days after birth in the research group of babies born to mothers who exercised regularly.  The research was presented for the first time at the 2013 Neuroscience conference in San Diego.


Although exercise for pregnant women has been previously recommended, the goals were to prevent obesity by keeping maternal weight down and to prevent gestational diabetes.  Research shows that obesity may contribute to autism and developmental delays in baby.  Keeping maternal weight at a healthy level is extremely important.  Gestational diabetes may result in complications for the mother and/or the baby.  According to the Mayo Clinic gestational diabetes complications for baby include excessive birth weight, respiratory distress, low blood sugar, type 2 diabetes (occurs later in life), and jaundice.   For the mother the complications include  high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and future diabetes.

With this new research there is yet another benefit for baby to some regular exercise during pregnancy.


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Lukits, Ann, “Waving Bye-Bye Linked To Babies’ Development,”  Wall Street Journal, 12/3/13.


Waving “Bye-Bye” is an important social and motor milestone that may be achieved during baby’s first year.  Learned through the skill of imitation and by the coordination of visual skill with fine motor skill, this skill is a lot of fun for babies.  Think of this skill as a somewhat complex version of grasping and reaching since the arm, hand, and fingers are involved.   Some babies wave by moving the wrist up and down and some by turning the hand round and round.  Observe the baby in the top video from Brandon Cassidy’s youtube channel.  He keeps his arm quite still as he moves his hand from side to side.  In the second video from Blanca Anderson’s youtube channel the baby waves by moving both his hand and his arm up and down.  This baby appears to be younger than the baby in the first video and the movement of his wave is less refined.  In time, he will learn to hold his arm still and move only his hand as the older baby can do in the first video.


A recent article in the Wall Street Journal took a close look at current research regarding this important baby milestone.  The article focuses on a recent study in Pediatrics International which found that premature babies learned the skill of waving bye-bye significantly later than full-term babies and they also used different hand and wrist movements.  The study compared the skill of waving bye-bye in 597 full-term and 95 premature babies in Japan.  Mothers reported the age when baby learned to wave goodbye and the infants’ hand motions were recorded by video camera at well-baby checkups and later analyzed.  Researchers present at the check-ups waved bye-bye to the babies to see if they would imitate them.  This study highlights the differences between the full term and premature babies in learning this skill.


Most full-term babies in the study achieved the milestone of waving bye-bye around the age of 10 months, and all of them achieved it before their first birthday.  Premature babies  learned the motor skill of waving an average of one month later than the full-term babies and 57% achieved the skill by their first birthday.  Learning the milestone of waving occurs as babies coordinate their fine motor skills and their visual ability to imitate an action observed.



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As a baby develops motor skills of crawling and walking that allow her to move around and explore,  she soon begins to look back at mom to see if it is OK to play with unfamiliar objects or to go around new corners.  In child development this behavior of looking back to a parent to see if something new or unfamiliar is OK is called “social referencing.”  Babies and children look to the adults they trust to provide them with clues to safely guide their explorations.  The clues often come from the parent’s non-verbal behavior, in particular the facial expression.


Joseph Campos of the University of California at Berkeley conducted the now classic baby experiment that investigated the role of facial expressions in providing infants with the clues of whether or not to proceed when faced with the unfamiliar.      Using an experimental strategy developed in the 1950s called the Visual Cliffhe created a situation that was unfamiliar and somewhat frightening for the babies.  Infants between 9 and 12 months are placed one at a time on a plexiglass table with a checkered pattern.  In the middle of the table is a visual drop off which is created by replacing the checkered pattern table top with a strip of clear plexiglass.  This created the appearance of a sudden drop in the table although the surface is completely uninterrupted.  The baby is placed on one side of the table while the mother stands on the other side while holding an appealing toy.  When the baby crawls to the center strip where the drop off appears, they sense they change and the potential danger.  They look to their mother to see what to do.


In the visual cliff experiment, the mother makes either a fear face or a smile/encouraging face as directed by the experimenter.  In most cases the baby responded to the fear face by choosing not to cross the visual cliff.  The mothers were trained to make the fear face by raising their eyebrows, widening their eyes, and opening their mouth.  When the mother posed a smile or encouraging face the baby confidently crossed the visual cliff to reach the toy.  Watch the above video from vooktv’s youtube channel to see the experiment in action.


Parenting tips learned from this experiment include being clear to make an encouraging face when you child is trying something new that is positive and safe and making a fear face when the child is considering an action not desired or dangerous.    Spend some time looking in the mirror and exaggerating these facial expressions so they become very obvious.  Observe your baby to see when she looks to you as if to ask, “Is this OK?”  Provide clear clues for your baby as she explores the world around her.  This gives baby confidence to explore, play with a new object, by held by an unfamiliar relative visiting from out of town, and more.


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“Music Lessons May Benefit the Diaper Set,” Ann Lukits, Wall Street Journal, 6/19/12.


Can music lessons benefit the cognitive development of babies?  A small study of 34 infants who participated in weekly hourlong music lessons in Ontario, Canada concludes the answer is yes.  The results of the study was published earlier this year in The Annals of the New York Academey of Sciences and summarized in the Wall Street Journal.  The study divided babies into two groups, one attended active and the other attended passive music lessons.  Activities in the active music lessons involved singing, movement, and playing percussion instruments.  During the passive lessons the babies played with toys while classical music was played in the background. The babies in the study participated in these lessons from 2008-2009.


The benefits occurred when babies actively participated in the music lessons.  After six months of interactive music lessons babies showed more sophisticated musical understanding, early language skills and advanced brain development than babies in passive-listening music classes. Test such as EEGs monitored brain activity and responsiveness to music after attending the classes.  Active participants had larger and earlier brain response to piano tones than the babies in the passive music classes.  Parents also noticed the active-music babies were easier to soothe and more socially advanced.


Stellar Caterpillar would like to remind parents that babies love music.  Just watch the 11 month old twins rock out to Daddy’s guitar in the above video from Brovadere’s youtube channel.  This is motivation enough to include more music, both passive and active, in your daily routine.  Suggestions include attending a music class for babies, singing to your baby often, and buying toys or baby rattles that make interesting sounds.


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A recent Wall Street Journal article by Ben Worthen explored the potential dangers of texting while parenting.  Watch the above video from WSJDigitalNetwork’s youtube channel for a summary of the article.  Emergency room doctors suspect that the recent rise in children’s injuries, especially in children under the age of 5, may be due to parents engaged with their smartphones while they were supposed to be watching their child.  “Non-fatal injuries to children under age five rose 12% between 2007 and 2010, after falling for much of the prior decade,” writes Worthen.  He cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the source for the data, and states that they based the statistic on emergency-room records.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, texting is the dominant use of a mobile phone.  The percentage of adults engaged with a smart phone in the activity of texting is approximately 65% of smart phone usage, while email is 47%, talking 45%, and listening to music is 29%.  This data is cited from a Consumer Electronics Products and Usage Report from 2010.  It clearly reveals that people are engaging with their phones to text more that any other e-activity.


To keep baby safe, it is important to keep your eyes on her.  This is important especially once she masters her motor milestones of crawling and walking.  The problem with texting while parenting is that you need your eyes and your hands to text, so that means you must direct your focus away from your baby to text.  And, as the WSJ article points out, once we respond to a text we might check email, facebook, or search for something on the net while looking down at our phone.  We know that when baby masters her motor skills she can move very fast.  In one second she can climb the couch or pull something heavy off a shelf.   Practice safety at home, at the pool, and at the park by asking people who may need to contact you to phone only so you can keep your eyes on baby.  When you can, turn off your phone.  This may be especially important at places such as the park where there are many new and unexpected situations that may present danger if baby is not closely supervised.


  • Turn off your phone when possible (at parks, pools, etc.).
  • Ask important contacts to call you rather than text.
  • Be aware of your eyes.  Keep them focused on baby.
  • Baby proof your home to help prevent accidents.




“C-Section May Boost Childhood Obesity Risk, Study Finds,”  Jennifer Huget, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012.


“Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height,” defines the Mayo Clinic.  Physical diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol used to be prevalent primarily among adults.    Now, we see children with extra weight (obesity) heading down the path toward these conditions.  Furthermore, children with obesity are at risk for developing poor self-esteem.  Research is showing us how certain factors in infancy may contribute toward the development of this condition.


This past May, research was published in the BMJ Archives of Disease in Childhood  showed babies delivered by c-section were more likely to become obese as children than babies born vaginally.  In fact, they were almost twice as likely to become obese.  The study looked at records of 1255 mom/baby pairs, with 274 delivered by c-section and 971 delivered vaginally.  Researchers looked at both the BMI (Body Mass Index) and the skin-fold of the children at the age of three.  BMI is calculated from the weight and height and is a screening tool.  At the age of three, 15.7 percent of the babies delivered by c-section were obese compared with 7.5 percent of those delivered vaginally.

The authors of the study suggest that the babies delivered by c-section are not exposed to the same colonies of digestive bacteria as a baby delivered vaginally.  They suggest that this lack of digestive bacteria may diminish the digestion and absorption process of food and contribute to obesity.  The authors point out that 4 to 18 percent of c-sections are carried out at “maternal request” rather than at the doctor’s recommendation.


Once baby is born it is not possible to change the way in which she entered this world.  Although we can can not change the fact that some babies were born by c-section, what we can do is minimize other contributing factors.  Parents help prevent childhood obesity by feeding babies and toddlers healthy and fresh foods rather than highly processed ones and by providing daily time on a play mat, in a swimming pool, or at the park for exercise.  Although a c-section can be a life-saving delivery method, elective ones may diminish with this new research.  Through pre-natal education, research studies such as this one may provide important points of discussion regarding the cost/benefit of an elective c-section delivery.