When you're a brand-new mom, it feels as though you could spend hours just examining every little detail of your newborn, from those impossibly tiny fingers to that sweet puckered mouth. Every movement on their face, from a wide-eyed stare to a red-faced yowl, is an absolute wonder. Then, as your baby gets older and the looks they give become more specific, you start to wonder what's behind them. One of the most fascinating — and amusing — facial expressions is that oh-so-serious one, complete with an intense gaze and a furrowed brow on your baby's face. Is your baby secretly checking you out? Or are they really ticked off that you served strained green beans for dinner?
The answer may not be what you think. Although babies don't have the emotional capacity or reasoning skills to make personal judgments, their brains aren't total blank slates, either. Scientists are learning that babies are born with the capacity to think; one recent study from Europe found that one-day-old children's brains responded differently to a "social cue," such as playing peekaboo, than to a non-social action, such as an arm moving an object, according to The Birkbeck University of London's School of Science. Other researchers have discovered, based on the length of time an infant stares at particular stimuli, that even the smallest babies may be able to understand such concepts as number quantity and the solidity of objects, reported The Guardian.
So when your little one fixes you with that serious/skeptical/annoyed look, does that mean they're working out a calculus problem? Probably not. More likely, your baby is sending you a message about something simpler on their mind. Here are the most likely reasons behind that furrowed brow.
1. “I'm getting to know you.”
In a baby under 3 months old, a serious gaze is most often a sign that they're familiarizing themselves with your face. As a child begins to make sense of the world outside the womb, they learn to calm down by focusing on the important people in their lives, psychologist Mona Delahooke, Ph.D., explained to Parents magazine.
2. "Ow! Teething hurts!"
Any type of pain, including teething pain, can make a baby frown, explains the University of Michigan's health website. Intense crying, body tension, and general irritability are also telltale signs that something doesn't feel right.
3. "Now I've got a tummy ache."
4. "Look out below!"
As reported by Romper, psychology professor Alison Gopnik told The Bump that a "spaced-out" or contemplative look often means that a major diaper dump is on its way. If you notice this look on your little one, get to the nearest changing table!
5. "I need to chill."
The situations and activities that thrill older children — birthday parties, playgrounds, busy fast-food restaurants, amusement parks — can be overwhelming to infants, whose developing nervous systems can't handle a lot of stimuli at once. Experts at Michigan State University Extension explained that frowning and forehead-wrinkling are among the ways babies signal that they've had enough; Gopnik added in her Bump interview that babies may also stick out their lower lip in a pout. If you notice this expression, it's wise to take your little one out of the noisy environment before they lose it completely.
6. "That crib is starting to look awfully good to me."
Depending on how long it's been since the last nap, a creased brow can be a sign of fatigue, registered nurse Rowena Bennett explained to Baby Care Advice. When that solemn look is accompanied by other telltale signs, such as eye-rubbing, yawning, pulling the ears or fussing, it's time for a little shut-eye. After your baby gets some rest, that frowny look should change to a beaming smile.