Category: Babies

Parenting Instagram accounts can make mothers feel supported, but also less competent

By Emily Reynolds

Adjusting to parenting can be difficult for many new parents — particularly when it comes to judging their own competence or knowing whether or not they are doing the “right” thing. Subsequently, many new parents seek advice: from peers, family members, friends, and, increasingly, from social media.

A new study, published in Acta Psychologica, explores the impact of parenting-related Instagram accounts on mothers. It finds a mixed experience: while mothers can feel supported by a community of fellow parents, they can also feel less competent when comparing themselves to others.

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A mother’s early life experiences of adversity can influence her baby’s sensitivity to stress

By Emma Young

Over the past few decades, it’s become clear that experiences even before birth influence later psychological wellbeing. A mother’s stress levels during pregnancy have emerged as a key influence. Greater stress seems to programme her child to “expect” a difficult environment, and so to be more sensitive to potential threats — and more vulnerable to developing an anxiety disorder. It’s uncertain, though, whether adversity earlier in life affects stress levels during pregnancy, and so might impact the child’s sensitivity to stress. So Cassandra L. Hendrix at New York University and colleagues set out to investigate.

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Childfree Adults Are Just As Satisfied With Their Lives As Parents

By Emily Reynolds

Across the world, birth rates are dropping. The global fertility rate has halved since 1950, with indications that this will continue to fall. There are a number of suggestions as to why this is the case: women may stay in education or the workforce rather than have multiple children, for instance, and many people across the world now have much greater access to contraception.

But many adults are also explicitly deciding not to have children, instead choosing to be “childfree”. The childfree movement has grown rapidly over the last few years: the ‘r/Childfree’ subreddit has over 1.4 million subscribers, whilst media coverage has proliferated in the UK and US.

But are the childfree missing out on the joys that come from parenthood? According to a new study published in PLOS One, that isn’t the case: childfree adults are just as satisfied with their lives as parents.

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At Just 16 Months Old, Toddlers Will Reward Someone For Acting Fairly

By Matthew Warren

Although we often think of young children as rather selfish, research has shown that babies and toddlers have a surprisingly strong sense of what is fair. At one year old, kids already expect resources to be divided fairly and for people to be helpful towards others. By two, they themselves tend to distribute resources equally, and would rather play with a fair adult than an unfair one.

But at what point do young kids actually intervene when they see someone else acting fairly or unfairly? According to a series of studies in Cognition, before they’re even one and a half years old children will reward someone for being fair — though they don’t yet punish unfair behaviour.

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Rates Of Postnatal Depression Among New Mothers Rose Sharply During Lockdown

By Emily Reynolds

Having a new baby is never easy: it’s difficult to manage the stress of birth, sleepless nights, and juggling of childcare and domestic responsibilities, especially for first-time parents. Some also experience postnatal depression, which is estimated to affect 23% of women in Europe after the birth of a child (men also experience postnatal depression, though the numbers are not so clear).

Add to new parenting the impact of lockdown, and that figure could rise sharply, a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests. Working with women with babies aged six months or younger in the UK during the first COVID-19 lockdown, UCL’s Sarah Myers and Emily H. Emmott found that almost half met the threshold for postnatal depression — double the average European rates.

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Babies Relax When Listening To Unfamiliar Lullabies From Other Cultures

By Emma Young

The controversial idea that there are universals in the ways we use music received a boost in 2018, with the finding that people from 60 different countries were pretty good at judging whether a totally unfamiliar piece of music from another culture was intended to soothe a baby or to be danced to. Now, new research involving some of the same team has revealed that foreign lullabies that babies have never heard before work to relax them. 

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Adults Put Off Crucial Conversations About Race Because They Mistakenly Think Young Children Won’t Understand

By Emily Reynolds

Conversations about race are not always easy, as the writer Reni Eddo-Lodge has recently explored in her brilliant book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. But they’re no less necessary for it: not talking about racism is simply not an option, particularly for those of us who benefit from structural inequality.

We all have a part to play in this ongoing dialogue — including parents of children growing up in a world full of racial injustice. Previous research has suggested that constructive conversations about race and ethnicity can have positive outcomes for children of all races — increased empathy, an ability to learn about and accept different perspectives, a better understanding of their own identity, and less racial bias.

But a new paper from Jessica Sullivan at Skidmore College and colleagues, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, suggests that those crucial conversations are being delayed — because parents are misjudging their children’s ability to process and understand race.

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Parents Have More Synchronised Patterns Of Brain Activity When They’re Together

By Emily Reynolds

It’s an oft-repeated supposition that you can tell whether someone fancies you by their body language: if they mirror how you’re standing or moving, the theory goes, they might just like you back. But romantic partners don’t just have behavioural synchrony in some cases, they have brain-to-brain synchrony too.

A pattern that has also been observed in musicians and their audiences, brain-to-brain synchrony is a mirroring of neural activity between individuals or groups. And according to a new study in Scientific Reports, such synchrony in spouses could affect how they respond to their children.

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Speaking “Parentese” With Young Children Can Boost Their Language Development

By Emily Reynolds

Language learning can be a matter of much concern for new parents, who often worry about what their baby is saying, how they’re saying it, and when. With previous research suggesting that frequent verbal engagement with babies can boost vocabulary and reading comprehension, this preoccupation is not without merit. But even those parents who aren’t too fixated on baby’s first word may in fact be improving their offspring’s language, even if they’re not aware of it.

A form of speech dubbed “parentese” may be a key factor in improving language learning in infants, a new study in PNAS has suggested. Naja Ferjan Ramírez and colleagues from the University of Washington examined the distinctive form of sing-song speech often aimed at babies, finding that it improved conversation between parents and their children and even boosted language development.

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Why "reaching training" for babies might soon become a thing

Babies’ first motor skills – how early they learn to reach for things and explore them – are related to their later abilities, both motor skills (such as crawling and walking) and skills in other domains, such as their vocabulary. This raises the intriguing possibility that those early motor abilities facilitate subsequent developments, triggering what psychologists call a “developmental cascade”. This makes sense – for example, a baby who can already reach for and interact with things tends to attract more attention from his or her parents, which in turn is likely to foster further broad developmental progress.

A new study in Developmental Science has tested this cascade theory with a training intervention. The researchers in America recruited a group of 14 three-month-old babies and their mothers, and for two weeks, the mothers were instructed to engage their infants in ten minutes per day of active reaching training. This involved the babies wearing Velcro covered mittens and being encouraged to reach for Velcro covered toys, with the Velcro helping the babies to successfully reach for and obtain the toys. A comparison group of 11 three-month-olds and their mothers spent the same time performing a passive version of the training, without the Velcro, in which the mothers touched the toys to their infants’ hands. The babies also completed a basic test of their grasping skills, before and after their training.

When the babies were 15 months old, they returned to the psychology lab and were videoed playing with a bead-maze toy (a wooden block with metal wires attached, along which beads could be pushed). A further control group of fifteen 15-month-old babies who hadn’t participated in any training at three months were also videoed playing with the toy.

The babies who’d received the active reaching training at 3 months of age showed more precocious motor and attentional skills when playing with the toy, as compared with the two other groups. For example, they spent more time looking at, grasping and rotating the toy and less time being distracted. Moreover,  the babies’ post-training, but not pre-training, grasping abilities at age 3 months were related to their play behaviour at 15 months, consistent with the idea that the early training had had a long-term influence.

The study involved only a small number of children, all of whom were from highly educated families, and this wasn’t a true randomised controlled trial because the no-training control group were recruited later and only visited the lab once. Nonetheless, these are fascinating results that suggest infants’ very early motor abilities have long-lasting knock-on effects on their later development, and that it may be possible to intervene early to assist this process. The researchers said intervening in this way might be particularly beneficial to babies born preterm and children at risk for autism, who are known to show motor delays and reduced grasping movements early in infancy.


Libertus, K., Joh, A., & Needham, A. (2015). Motor training at 3 months affects object exploration 12 months later Developmental Science DOI: 10.1111/desc.12370

further reading
How babies go sole searching
10 surprising things babies can do

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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