I knew it. When, as a tiny baby Girlbug stuck her tongue out, it wasn’t aimed at me! The latest science seems to show (I say seems, I can only access the abstract) that babies don’t possess the innate ability to mimic facial expressions. It’s learnt some time after birth. Isn’t he early weeks, if you stick out your tongue and a baby copies you, it’s probably coincidence!
I read things like the below on Babycentre before birth:
“Even now he will try to mimic your facial expressions. Try sticking out your tongue and wait to see if he copies you”.
In fact I think it was even mentioned in my antenatal classes.
So, day 1 of Girlbug’s life, I sat after a very uncomfortable and broken nights sleep, perched on the hospital bed sticking my tongue out at her. The result? Nothing. Just nothing. Ah well, I thought. I persevered. She did occasionally stick her tongue out when I did, but then often she didn’t, and she occasionally did it when I didn’t. There was no pattern that I could see. Part of the problem could be that there’s been a thumb (or laterly two fingers) in her mouth since birth – why would she remove that thumb to stick out her tongue for no good reason?
At 8-10 weeks, Girlbug stopped putting on weight so I went to a breastfeeding clinic. A lovely, kind lady watched us feed, and checked for tongue-tie. As she stuck her tongue out at Girlbug, Girlbug’s lips remained clasped shut, her expression one of boredom at yet more face-pulling to try to get a reaction. The kind lady observed “she doesn’t stick out her tongue, maybe she has a tongue-tie”. I had to explain that Girlbug does stick her tongue out, but not on command. The kind lady looked concerned at my 8 week old’s lack of social skills!
But, finally, three and a half years too late to stop my worry, there’s proof that Girlbug isn’t alone! Of 106 babies under 10 weeks old, none of them managed to mimic facial expressions reliably. The sample size is small (though it’s apparently the largest study. I can’t imagine studying whether babies can stick their tongue out is particulaly well funded). But, even if we can’t generalise to every baby, at least I know Girlbug wasn’t out of the ordinary.
And finally, a small apology to Boybug. I didn’t even try. It didn’t work with Girlbug, and I was too busy trying to get a 22 month old and baby dressed, fed, to bed etc. Sorry! I probably should have stuck my tongue out at you more!