Why babies love looking into eyes and why movement and smiling‎ is so important to them

The most important and yet simple interaction between a parent and child is in the visual communication. Babies respond to the loving gaze of their mother and father. A parent falling in love with their baby feeds into the baby falling in love with the world and this is the basic structural paving stone for curiosity particularly later at 10 to 18 months. So seeking or appreciating eyes and facial features are encoded within babies preferences, they prefer to see normal faces as opposed to un-scrambled ones as shown to infants in research.

They also enjoy smiling ones which smile back, bringing further warmth and joy to parents who see their babies beaming back. Parent’s dilated pupils and parent’s eyes can also ignites babies interest and spur on the orbitofrontal cortex – helpful in cognitive processing and decision making, it is the part of the brain that lights up when seeing something beautiful.

6 months to a year is the most sensitive period in infancy and this is when there is an increase in mutually responsive face to face communication, gazing, smiling which increases dopamine (controls reward and pleasure centre in the brain) and releases signals from axon terminals (bud like transmitter structures of a neuron and forms a synapse).

Why is this so necessary? Because the right brain hemisphere is developing and needs an enjoyable and as much of a stress free time as possible. This will aid the flurry of brain growth and the weight of the brain will double in weight within the first year. It is important to make babies ‘hooked’ to social interactions by making the brain fire up all these lovely feelings. Babies need to want their mothers, as her brain, body, heart-beat, nervous system are the babies development backbone. Giving structure and feeding them on many different levels. Attachment figures are the ‘touchstones’ or pillars for social learning.

Babies are known to move with jerky like movements this evolutionary attention grabbing tactic keep adults involved, attentive and interested and wondering. Increasing a parent’s compulsion to touch or look at their babies. This is an ingenious way for building up rapport between babies and parents, which in turn again feeds into the psychological internal world of the baby. ‎Little baby gestures initiate containing communications and observations from parents who again give an understanding and an emotional palette for their baby to learn from and in turn grow more curious about their environment.

Early object relational experiences are not only registered in the deep unconscious but influence the development of the psychic systems. In ‘reverie’ mother is holding her baby psychically giving the baby an ‘second emotional skin’ and is the centre of baby’s wellbeing. She holds her baby in mind and this gives a sense of safety to the baby who feels held.

If a baby has a good relationship with their mother then they can ingest milk better but also internalise her, if reliably fed and is concordant to her baby’s need then the baby will learn to rely and relax with their mother and want more milk, interaction and love from her. This sounds like a lot of pressure for mothers, however, if mothers can pick up the pieces of distressed signals or repair their mistakes this is when babies learn the most. Babies need to experience some sense that mother is human so as to learn rudimentary coping strategies to hold themselves together. In other word’s no mother can be perfect and in not being so this allows the baby to learn to cope with little baby steps. Babies have an innate plasticity and versatility that is progressive.

Neonates are born with some self-regulating capacity stemming from when in utero, they can monitor and block out, tolerate or use stimulation and this can be noticed as soon as birth. When babies look away they are trying to process what is happening and not to alert or overstimulate other parts of the brain. Parents are given signals when it is all too much by babies looking away, whimpering or making grumbling noises. If mothers do not contain or regulate quickly enough, they learn from baby cues and are given many reparational opportunities. There is a correlation where baby feels something, mother digests it, feeds back with her own unique translation, baby ingests it in turn and this becomes an internalised building block. If not pitched right the mother has continual opportunity for repair. This ‘Interactive repair’ interchange is baby’s way of developing resilience. Regulatory positive, negative and back to positive transactions help the glue of the early relationship.