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How to Ethically Experiment on Your Baby

March 16, 2010

Quote of the week: “I can’t believe he didn’t seem concerned about the throwing up, the smelly farts, the coughing, the spitting, or the hiccups. He said that they’re all normal!!” Maria, returning from the paediatrician.

My wife – bless– said that the blog should provide more news on Alika that family and friends want, and less inquiry and 4am ruminations on the cornucopia that accompanies the observance of an inchoate and developing child.

Thus, in respect to the supposed portmanteau character of this blog, I am happy to report that Alika seems fine, spending her days in a supine position, and of a blithe disposition, despite her parent’s languid movements as we wait in attendance.

Anyway, enough deference to my uxorious nature, and on to the interesting stuff.

I’ve held Alika in front of the mirror to see if she can pass the self-awareness test. She fails miserably in this test compared to dolphins, elephants, magpies and some orders of primates. This test generally determines if animals can recognise their own reflection in a mirror.

First you show an animal a mirror, and then put a blemish on their nose, such as some Vegemite, and watch if they try to remove it by watching themselves in the mirror. In all fairness, humans don’t pass this test until 18 months or so, but we’re hoping Alika sets a new world record by constant practice, bigger mirrors and maybe a private tutor. Granted though she is still near sighted.

I have had more success with making her recognise certain sounds that consequently correspond to a particular action.

After many late nights and early mornings practice, when I tap the milk bottle four times with my fingernail Alika generally looks to me and slightly opens her mouth. She won’t salivate like Pavlov’s dog, and sometimes she refuses to play the game and screams for the milk, but it amuses me at 4am.

Less practical is watching her hiccup and yawn. I had no idea that babies do this.

When she hiccups, I know generally she’ll stop regurgitating her food over my clothes. She’ll yawn, however, at any time, and unlike adults, she doesn’t find it contagious. I can yawn at her all morning – as generally I seem to do after an uneasy night – and she never repeats the action.

What makes all this interesting is we have no idea why adults yawn or have the hiccups. There must be, however, a physiological reason for these two actions if babies are doing these things constantly, and from such an early age.

My guess is that in the undeveloped body, yawning is an important way to get air into the lungs faster than what the small nose can deliver, as babies as far as I have read don’t actually breathe through their mouths, or at least prefer to breathe through their noses. (No, I have not been allowed by Alika’s mother to test this by holding her nose closed). For hiccups, it seems a way for the undeveloped stomach to somehow caress the food around to ease digestion once the food has settled. Pie in the sky ideas maybe.

But I do like the thought that, as adults, when we yawn and hiccup, we are retaining some neonate and infancy habits that we no longer need but never left us.

One Comment leave one →
  1. mandy permalink
    March 17, 2010 7:41 pm

    I wish I had a Dad like you…wait, I do have a Dad like you. Brilliant blogg.

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