Babies 'help mothers pick them up'
Babies as young as two months know when they are about to be picked up and change their body posture in preparation, according to new research.
Professor Vasu Reddy, of the University of Portsmouth, has found most babies aged two to four months understand they are about to be picked up the moment their mothers come towards them with their arms outstretched and they make their bodies go still and stiff in anticipation, making it easier to be picked up.
All infants in the study also stilled their bodies and thrashed around less as their mother approached. The study, published in the journal Plos One, is the first to examine how babies adjust their posture in anticipation to offset the potentially destabilising effect of being picked up.
Prof Reddy said: "We didn't expect such clear results. From these findings we predict this awareness is likely to be found even earlier, possibly not long after birth.
"The results suggest we need to rethink the way we study infant development because infants seem to be able to understand other people's actions directed towards them earlier than previously thought. Experiments where infants are observers of others' actions may not give us a full picture of their anticipatory abilities."
She added that the findings could also be used as an early indicator of some developmental problems, including autism.
The researchers, who included Gabriela Markova, of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, and Sebastian Wallot, of the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, did two studies - one on 18 babies aged three months, and a second on 10 babies aged two to four months.
In both, babies were placed on a pressure mat which measured their postural adjustments during three phases: as their mothers chatted with their babies; as the mothers opened their arms to pick them up; and as the babies were picked up. The results revealed that babies as young as two months made specific adjustments when their mothers stretched their arms out to pick them up.
Prof Reddy said the results reveal two important findings. First, that from as early as two months babies make specific postural adjustments to make it easier to pick them up even before their mother touches them. And second, it appears that babies learn to increase the smoothness and co-ordination of their movements between two and four months, rather than develop new types of adjustment.
"In other words, they rapidly become more adept at making it easier for parents to pick them up," she said.