Direct Eye Contact with Infants: How to Use It to Your Advantage

by Jennifer Gowans
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Newborns have very limited sight for the first few weeks of life, but one of the first and most important skills that a newborn learns, is to maintain direct eye contact. In addition to helping a newborn recognize faces, this new skill causes a chemical change in an infants’ brain by stimulating a release of hormones, namely Oxytocin, which is necessary to create a strong parent-child bond.

This stimulation and release of hormones will excite your baby; his breathing and heart

rate will increase, he may kick his legs, and try to smile or babble at you. Regular infant

stimulation can improve your baby’s curiosity, attention span, memory, and nervous

system development. In addition, babies who are stimulated more frequently reach

developmental milestones faster, have better muscle coordination, and a more secure self-i

mage. For this reason, Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as ‘the love hormone’ and is

critical to intiate emotional communication for all kind of emotions – love, fear, trust, and

anxiety, for example. 

So my sleep tip today is: AVOID looking your baby directly in the eye. Wait. What? Yes,

that’s right… at NAPTIME, BEDTIME or during those late night feedings, avoid making

direct eye contact with your baby when you are trying to put him to sleep. The direct eye

contact will stimulate your baby and ‘perk her up’ and she may then be harder to resettle.

Parents who make eye contact with sleepy babies may inadvertently encourage them to

snap out of their sleep zone. The more interaction that takes place between you and your

baby during the night, the more motivation he has to get up and stay up.

So what should you do instead? Keep it low-key. While you are putting your baby to

sleep, or if you must enter your baby’s sleep space at night, don’t hold his gaze or baby-

talk and goo at him. Keep your gaze on his belly and soothe him back to sleep with a soft

voice and gentle touch; and save the direct eye contact for the day and activity times.

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