Some baby behaviours are unusual and can even be disturbing to watch, but rest assured, most are completely normal and disappear without intervention. Six of the most common unusual behaviours that you might catch your bubba doing are hiccups, jerky movements, touching their genitals at change time, headbanging, breath-holding, and erections in boys.
These can start while your baby is still developing in the womb. They are harmless and usually more of a nuisance to you than they are to your little one. Hiccups are a spasm of the diaphragm (the muscle that allows lungs to fill and release air) and are generally caused by an irritation or stimulation.
Because the diaphragm is located near the digestive tract, hiccups often follow a feed, and hiccups on a full tummy may cause stomach contents to rise up the oesophagus. This regurgitation of milk, known as ‘reflux’, is not usually accompanied with crying so there’s nothing to worry about except the messy clean-up. However, if your bub does have regular hiccups with crying it could be a sign of Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) and should be checked by your child health professional. Hiccups will also be more frequent when bubba is tired so try to keep him well rested.
A sudden muscle contraction or lapse in muscle contraction can cause jerky limb movements. They can be a ‘tired sign’, often occurring when your baby is overtired and/ or overstimulated, as the immature newborn nervous system is on high alert. Jerky movements are common with newborns, who startle easily, but will gradually improve as bub grows. Cuddling and swaddling will help, making bub feel calm and secure.
At around four to six months of age, your little one begins to grab anything that’s easy to grip on to because he has more control of his hands and arms. Genitals, ears, feet, and hands are easy bits to grip. Touching genitals at change time is convenient as he’s nappy-free, lying on his back with his genitals exposed. As your bub touches his genitals he often gets a pleasurable sensation but this is not ‘dirty’, ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, so be calm in your response to this unexpected behaviour – it’s acceptable and normal.
Your baby may lie face down on the floor or a bed, raising and lowering his head, thumping his forehead on the floor or firm mattress. An older bub may sit facing a wall, rocking and banging his forehead on the wall.
This seemingly strange behaviour is a common habit that often starts at around nine months of age. It may look disturbing but rarely causes your little one harm and is usually gone by the time he turns three. However, if your bub’s headbanging behaviour is excessive and interrupts a lot of his day, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your child health professional.
It’s a rhythmical action that babies find soothing, so you’ll often find him doing it when he’s falling asleep, teething, or suffering painful symptoms such as an ear infection. In older bubs, headbanging provides comfort in stressful situations or when he is over- or under-stimulated.
Headbanging is also often seen with tantrums, when his emotions are difficult for him to control. Although headbanging looks worrying, try not to intervene. Instead, introduce and practise other soothing and comforting alternatives.
These attacks are a reflex, not a conscious act, and while frightening to watch, are perfectly normal. Breath-holding attacks come in two types: ‘blue’ (cyanotic from lack of breath) and ‘white’ (pallid from a decreased heart rate and blood pressure). The blue breath-holder is the most common and usually occurs when your bub is crying from fright or emotionally upset, whereas the white breath-holder is more from pain.
Your baby may pass out (an unconscious state) for 30 to 60 seconds before his body automatically kick-starts his breathing again. It’s scary to watch and can happen as early as six months of age and continue until six years of age. It’s more common during the toddler years. For some, breath-holding attacks happen daily and for others, only every now and again.
During an ultrasound, it’s often your baby’s erection that gives away ‘it’s a boy’. At birth, genitals can be swollen due to maternal hormones and pressure caused during birth but this will subside in a few days. Erections are normal, but if your bub’s penis is swollen, reddened, or the erection is prolonged for an hour or two it could be something else so it’s best to have him checked out by your child health professional.
Little boys get erections during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, in the bath, and during change time. An erection makes bub’s wee stream difficult to control; it’s all completely normal behaviour, but be prepared!