While some baby books try to explain the odd little things that newborns do, many of the quirky little behaviors have to be experienced to be believed. These tiny little humans are born still developing, and they learn to navigate the overwhelming stimuli of the outside world in fits and starts.
Newborn babies are remarkable in that they are learning and growing at an incredible rate. A lot of systems have to get up and running very quickly, including the immune, musculoskeletal and nervous systems. With so many complicated processes starting up, it's not surprising that there are a few hiccups along the way.
Babies are paradoxically durable yet vulnerable creatures, and when something goes wrong, it can become extremely dangerous very quickly. All parents, whether new or veteran, find themselves watching their babies with bewilderment, trying to sort through what is weird but normal, and what is weird and very abnormal.
Some odd behaviors seem to defy any scientific explanation, and even medical professionals don't have a good reason for why the baby is doing what she's doing. Most of the weird things newborns do have an explanation, although parents might be surprised at the source of some of them.
For those who are wondering, here's Why The Baby's Doing That: 20 Odd Behaviors Explained (And Three Experts Are Divided On).
23 Suddenly Sneezing
In an older kid or grown-up, sudden sneezing is often a signal that a cold might be developing, but newborns are probably not sneezing for that reason. The nasal passage of a newborn is tiny and short, and they spend a lot of their time reclined and drinking milk, according to Healthline. This means they have to clear their noses a lot more often.
Sneezes are also a weapon that newborns wield against the sudden onslaught of germs in their environment. Newborn babies are also little mouth-breathers while they're adjusting to the new technique of breathing through their noses.
22 Tiny Baby Fencer
When a newborn is placed on her back, parents often notice that she will move into a specific position, with her head turned and the arm and leg on the side the head is turned toward straightened out, and the opposite arm and leg being bent.
This pose is actually a reflex that doctors often call the fencer's pose because it looks like the newborn is about to shout “en garde,” according to Verywell Family.
It seems to prevent the baby from rolling onto her back, and the reflex goes away sometime between the third and sixth month.
21 Cat Nap Kid
Short naps are totally normal for a baby, especially in newborns. A lot of factors come into play, including baby's own preferences, how quickly her tummy empties, or even as she begins to settle into her nap routine, as per Baby Sleep Site.
It's exhausting for a parent to feed and rock a baby to sleep only to have her wake ten minutes later ready to go. It's hard not to be jealous of the parents of those solid sleepers who log at least an hour of shut-eye time, but cat naps are normal for babies under six months.
20 Baby Breastmilk Bounty
This odd behavior in newborns is a bit rarer than others, but up to 5% of babies will lactate–up to 2% for up to two months after birth, as per Pediatrics Consultant Live.
It's not dangerous–babies just absorb the same hormones that circulate through mom to prompt milk production. When babies produce breastmilk, it's called galactorrhea, and they may also have larger breast nodules.
Parents don't normally have to do anything though, because the condition almost always resolves on its own.
19 Everything Goes In Their Mouth
As soon as the baby has mastery over her hand, new parents find everything she can grasp immediately gets put in her mouth. It seems like a poor instinct for a baby–she can choke on all the tiny bits and pieces of things she picks up.
Many experts point out that babies' mouths are sensory and can communicate a lot of information to their brains.
Another reason could be precisely because of the bacteria, dust, and allergens clinging to the small object, according to Babble. Baby's exposing herself to germs and allergens that end up strengthening her immune system.
18 The Wrestler's Grip
It's so common for babies to clench their fists that while parents notice it, they never ask why. It turns out fingernails begin growing before the baby is even born, while he's in the amniotic sac. His toenails don't grow as quickly and are covered.
By balling up his fist with the thumb in, the baby may be protecting himself from poking the amniotic sac so hard it breaks, as per Forbes.
The other predominant theory is that babies have a strong grasp because they used to have to grip their mother while she was on the move, according to Science ABC.
17 Help, I'm Falling!
Mom has fed the newborn and put her down to sleep in a nice warm room with a clean diaper and no noise. All of a sudden, the baby startles herself awake, seemingly for no reason. It's actually a reflex that newborns naturally have called the Moro reflex, explains Mama Natural. After it's happened, the baby will fuss and cry and might resume the fetal position after.
The Moro reflex is a sign the nervous system is operating properly, but it can be stressful for all if it happens often.
Swaddling and removing sudden sounds and movements can reduce the occurrence.
16 Hiccup Happenings
If we dislike getting the hiccups, then we figure that baby does, too–especially since it seems to happen so often. Experts aren't even sure what purpose hiccups even serve, although one study suggested that the hiccup reflex might help get extra air out of the stomach, as per Medical News Today.
Sometimes newborns' hiccups seem to be feeding related, and other times may have no apparent reason at all. It's usually normal, but if they happen very often and the baby seems to be fussy or in pain, she might be struggling with gastroesophageal reflux (GER).
15 Hair Pulling Concerns
It looks odd to us because it seems painful, but babies often pull their hair when they're fussy as a soothing mechanism, according to Everyday Family. Often the fingers of one little hand intertwine with strands of her own hair while the other thumb reaches for the mouth. A little hair pulling isn't worrisome unless baby begins to pull hair out.
Tugging on the hair is usually a sign of distress, so parents who are worried that baby is pulling her hair too much can watch for the sign and try alleviating the distress or distracting baby with a game.
14 Headbanging Baby
Up to 20% of babies bang their heads, and it's more likely to happen with boys than with girls. It seems counterintuitive, but these headbanging babies might just be seeking comfort or trying to distract themselves from the pain of teething or an earache, as per BabyCenter.
Toddlers may bang their heads in an attempt to get attention and may continue if they’ve gotten a positive or humorous response. They may need a more soothing way to calm themselves down. Occasionally head banging could be a sign of a developmental, although it's certainly not the only possible sign.
13 Why So Twitchy Baby?
It's so sweet and endearing to watch a newborn baby sleep–until he starts twitching. For first time moms, it can be pretty alarming to watch the baby twitch seemingly randomly, but researchers explain that these twitches indicate that his brain is teaching his body how to move itself, according to the University of Iowa.
These twitches seen in baby's face or other parts of the body are responses to the sensorimotor system activating different areas of the baby's brain during the deepest sleep cycle.
Twitches may increase in one area of the body when a baby is learning a particular skill.
12 Take A Breath
Periodic breathing is more common in premature babies, but can also occur in healthy full-term newborns as well. It happens when a baby stops breathing for up to ten seconds, usually during sleep, as per Fairview. Doctors characterize it as similar to, but not the same as, sleep apnea.
All kinds of breathing irregularities are normal so long as they are rare – the newborn baby is still navigating the new process of breathing.
Any breathing pauses longer than ten seconds are cause for concern, however. If it persists, parents shouldn't shake a baby to wake her but should call the pediatrician.
11 Forgot About It
The simple skill of clapping hands together or waving bye-bye is so exciting once baby has learned how to do it – so when the next day mom excitedly urges baby to clap for grandma and baby just stares at her, mom is dumbfounded.
It's not that baby forgot, but more likely her personality is asserting itself–she just doesn't want to do it.
Maybe she's learned another skill she's more interested in sharing, or she's just enjoying watching mom doing the clapping for her. The skill will probably reappear within the next few weeks at most.
10 Sticking The Tongue Out
Newborns stick out their tongues a lot.
Often this is related to the tongue-thrust reflex, which keeps them from choking and helps them to get a good latch when they're nursing, according to Healthline.
Newborns are also learning about the world in the beginning and process a lot of information orally. Researchers aren't in complete agreement, but it's possible that even very young babies can imitate parents who stick out their tongues so that it could be an attempt at interaction.
Sticking the tongue out isn't just a sign that baby is hungry – it can also signal that he has eaten enough.
9 It Just Shot Out
Mom might not realize that she gave birth to a baby cannon – until she's just not quick enough with the diaper to catch the stuff that shoots out of baby's rear end at lightning speed.
Projectile bowel movements happen in the first couple weeks of baby's life because it just doesn't take a lot of force to move the liquid doo-doo out, and trapped gas might propel it even faster, as per Breastfed Baby.
Baby stools aren't supposed to be hard and solid, so sometimes the fountain is a bit surprising but totally normal.
8 The Gassiest Baby
It's not a gas attack; it's a totally normal process that happens in perfectly healthy babies. Lots of gas happens–often quite loudly–because babies are swallowing a lot of air while eating, crying or sucking a pacifier, as per WebMD. When babies burp up gas, whatever else in their tummy usually follows. Gas more frequently travels the southerly route to freedom. There's no need to worry if the baby is tooting along but doesn't seem very fussy. If his tummy gets hard and firm, or he seems fussy or is grunting, then he could have air stuck or be constipated.
7 Eyelids At Half Mast
Nobody wants to call a newborn creepy, but when they sleep with their eyes half open or even all the way open–it can look a bit creepy. This phenomenon of eyes-open sleeping is actually normal in newborns, according to BabyCenter. Experts say there isn't enough research to explain exactly why this happens, but many theorize that it is linked to REM sleep, which babies do more often than grown-ups.
Mom can gently stroke baby's eyelids shut if it looks too weird. If baby's eyes become irritated or it happens often, she should talk to the pediatrician about it.
6 Noticing Nose Vomit
Babies are just like us in that their throat and nose canal are connected, but because they're smaller, any liquid traveling up from the stomach doesn't have nearly as far to go, so spit up can come out through the newborn's nose, according to Livestrong.
In grown-ups, the valve that covers the esophagus and keeps liquid from just bubbling up is fully formed, but in infants the valve is immature, and so their liquid meal plan escapes more readily.
Babies are often reclined when they spit up also, so it's just going with the flow of gravity–right out through the nose.
5 Don't Cry For Me Tearless Baby
Even if there aren't tears, those newborn cries are real. Tear ducts take a while to mature, and may not be working properly in the first few weeks after birth.
Tear ducts are pretty small, so even once they've developed, they could clog easily, causing the baby to have a yellowish discharge. One tear duct might be working fine, while the other is closed. If the tear duct looks clogged, the pediatrician will explain how to keep it clean, but generally, babies aren't assessed for any medical intervention related to their tear ducts until after they're a year old.
4 All The Colors Of The Rainbow
One of the most asked-about newborn phenomena at the pediatrician's office has to be the astounding variety that is witnessed during diaper duty. Newborn doo-doo can appear in a range of colors, including the greenish-black of meconium, to the bright yellow or greenish breastfed variety, or the yellow to brown formula-generated deposits, explains Unity Point Health.
As if the wild colors weren't fun enough, baby's diaper paintings can vary in consistency from seedy to peanut butter. Some colors aren't normal or healthy, including gray, black (after the meconium has passed), and chalky white– if mom sees these colors she should check with a pediatrician.
3 The Kind Of Crying
Newborns have one very effective tool they can use to get someone's attention: crying. Many babies can be soothed once mom finds the source of the problem, but some crying seems to have no cause and continues despite mom's best efforts for hours on end.
Doctors call this colic, but many are divided as to what causes colic, and whether it's harmful for baby to cry for so long, as per Parents. Colic does follow a pattern, but experts can't agree whether it has a cause, is excess gas, or is simply in the upper end of a normal behavior.
2 Ragdoll Baby
Reflexes can be alarming to watch in a newborn, but they're actually a good sign that the muscles and nervous system are developing properly. While newborns certainly aren't rolling around or walking, they should have some muscle tone and shouldn't feel like a rag doll when they're picked up.
If parents notice this, the baby may have hypotonia, as per Boston Children's Hospital. Hypotonia can be present at birth, or can be a progressive issue, and could indicate other serious issues. Just because mom doesn't notice it in the first few months doesn't mean it can't develop over time.
1 Even Weirder Than The Weird Breathing
Considering that newborns can't talk, they sure are noisy creatures. Even a breath can be loud or followed by a high squeak or grunt. Occasional noisiness is normal, but prolonged noise or a long pause between breaths is worth checking with the pediatrician, according to Mama Natural.
A lot of factors can contribute to a baby's noisy breathing–including whether he was premature–but signs that he's having trouble taking effective breaths are not something to ignore. Parents might not want to overreact, but breathing consistently ending in a grunt or a barking cough is a definite sign something isn't right.
References: Healthline, University Of Iowa, Science ABC, Medical News Today, Everyday Family, Fairview, Parents, Breastfed Baby, Pediatrics Consultant Live, Unity Point Health, Boston Children's Hospital,