CLOSE
iStock
iStock

25 Adorable Facts about Babies

iStock
iStock

Babies are aggravatingly cute, but to the uninitiated, they’re basically aliens. And even the most experienced parent or childcare provider can still be baffled by one of those amazing, screaming bundles of joy.

Whether you’ve sworn off kids forever or already have several of your own, here are 25 adorable, cheek-pinching facts about babies you may not know:

1. YOU CAN’T GIVE THEM JUST ANY NAME.

Many countries prohibit using profanity, numbers, or symbols in children’s names, but some take it even further. Norway won’t allow you to use a traditional last name as a first name. A French court recently ruled that a couple couldn’t name their child after a brand of delicious chocolate-hazelnut spread. Portugal bans parents from naming their child Nirvana. The U.S., however, is more lenient, and will let you name your kid Espn if you really want to.

2. IN SOME PLACES, BABIES ARE VERY RARE.

Earlier this year, a baby boy named Pablo became the first child born in Ostano, Italy in almost 30 years. He’s the town’s 85th resident.

3. THEY’VE EVOLVED TO BE ADORABLE. 

Babies are completely dependent on adults for their survival for the first few years of their lives, so they’ve evolved to maximize the amount of attention they get from their parents and other adult humans. Scientists have pinpointed specific infant characteristics that we find irresistibly cute (known as baby schema), like a large head, round face, large eyes, and protruding cheeks.

4. WE NATURALLY WANT TO SQUEEZE THEM. 

Yale University research has found that people tend to feel aggressive when confronted with photos of adorable babies and animals. A 2015 study found that having an intensely positive reaction to pictures of babies was linked to wanting to express aggression in ways like cheek-pinching. The researchers aren’t quite sure why this is the case, but hypothesize that it may be a way to regulate extreme positive emotions.

5. EVEN TODDLERS KNOW THEY’RE CUTE.

A 2014 study of children as young as 3 years old used baby schema and eye tracking to help understand what babies find most cute. The children could identify baby-like facial characteristics in people, puppies, and kittens. Interestingly, they rated puppies as cuter than other babies or kittens.

6. THEY’RE DRAWN TO SURPRISE.

A 2015 study found that babies focus more on objects that surprise them. The researchers found that babies learned more about objects that defied their expectations of the world, such as a ball that seemed to be able to pass magically through a wall.

7. THEY HAVE A UNIQUE REFLEX THAT DISAPPEARS WITH AGE.

The Moro reflex, where a baby will suddenly fling out her arms and legs and cry, is an involuntary response to feeling unsupported, but it can also happen as a baby is falling asleep, which is one reasons why swaddling is so useful for babies—it keeps them from waking themselves up with the Moro reflex. The reflex is unique to infants, and by 5 months old, healthy babies grow out of it.

8. THEY ALREADY KNOW TO HOLD THEIR BREATH UNDERWATER.

Babies instinctively hold their breath and open their eyes underwater in what’s called the dive reflex. This reflexive response to water decreases over time.

9. THEY REALLY DO LIKE LULLABIES.

A 2015 study found that babies remained calm for longer while listening to songs, even in unfamiliar languages, compared to regular speech.

10. THEY’RE WIRED TO IMITATE. 

Brain activity studies have shown that when babies watch others reach for objects, the motor control regions of their brains activate, too. This helps them understand other people’s actions and think about doing something similar themselves.

11. THEY CAN LEARN IN THE WOMB.

Scientists have found that babies can recognize sounds they heard from inside their mother’s womb, such as the theme song to their mom’s favorite soap opera. In 2013, a group of researchers found that infants who had been exposed to a made-up word during the last few months of their mother’s pregnancy recognized the word and variations of its pronunciation later on.

12. THEY CAN’T REALLY SEE.

Until they’re around 3 months old, babies can only focus their eyes about 8 to 10 inches away from their faces, though they can see light and movement. They don’t gain depth perception until around 5 months old.

13. THEIR TASTE PREFERENCES CAN DEVELOP BEFORE THEY’RE BORN.

While in the womb, babies swallow the amniotic fluid that surrounds them, tasting some of the flavors of the food and drink their mother has had in the process. In one study, babies born to women instructed to drink carrot juice during pregnancy or breast feeding liked carrot-flavored cereal more than babies whose mothers were told to avoid carrots altogether.

14. THEY EAT LESS THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

In the first three months of life, the USDA estimates that babies need between 438 and 572 calories over the course of a day, depending on their size. That’s only a little more than a single Big Mac.

15. THEY HAVE UNIQUE HAIR.

While some babies come into this world relatively hairless, others are born with a lot of whitish body hair, especially preemies. This soft, downy fuzz is called lanugo. It develops in the fifth month of pregnancy and if it isn’t gone by the time a baby is born, it usually disappears within a few weeks.

16. THEY STILL NEED PASSPORTS.

Even the youngest newborns need proper documentation to travel abroad. The U.S. State Department recommends taking a picture of your baby laying on a white sheet or sitting in a carseat covered in a white sheet to ensure her passport photo has a properly plain background. Canada doesn’t allow parental hands in the photo, but does note that the “Passport Program recognizes the difficulty in obtaining a neutral expression of a newborn and will allow for some minor variations in this regard.”

17. BABIES CAN GET CREDIT FOR THEIR PARENTS’ MOVIES.

Pixar recognizes “production babies” in the credits of its films. Starting with Toy Story, the studio began running lists of the given names of babies born to its employees in the year before a film’s release in the end credits. Now, some video games even list production babies in their credits.

18. IT WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE—HEALTHY, EVEN—TO DANGLE THEM OUT THE WINDOW.

In the 19th century, people living in dirty urban areas wanted to give their babies access to the restorative properties of fresh air. Without access to backyards and country homes, they came up with a workaround: the baby cage. In the 1920s, inventors came up with compartments that could be propped on window sills in high-rise buildings, effectively dangling enclosed wire cribs outside like air conditioning units. Wonder why that went out of style?

19. THEY CAN DO MATH.

Babies are born with some innate mathematical talents, namely being able to distinguish between orders of magnitude. They can tell the difference between a pattern of 10 dots and 20 dots, for instance. Having a greater intuitive sense of numbers at 6 months old predicted better math scores at 3 years old, according to a 2013 study. Another study found that 6-month-olds can detect math errors when presented with addition and subtraction problems represented by groups of dolls instead of numbers.

20. THEY’RE IPAD PROS.

A 2015 study of 270 families in Philadelphia found that 36 percent of kids had used some kind of touchscreen before they turned 1 year old. While the effect of technology use on kids’ development is still hotly debated, one thing is certain: kids love touchscreens. This is partially due to contingency, the notion that certain events are dependent on others [PDF]. So when a baby pokes at an iPad and makes a video play, she’s exploring contingency, and how her actions can shape the world around her.

21. THEY KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SKYPE AND TV.

Because they’re well attuned to social responsiveness (again, contingency) babies can tell the difference between a video chat with their grandparents and being addressed by a static character like Dora the Explorer as part of a television show. This level of tech-savviness can appear as early as 2 to 6 months old. However, they may not understand that Grandma and Grandpa don’t actually live in the computer until later.

22. THEIR HEADS SMELL AMAZING.

The smell of a newborn baby has been scientifically proven to be amazing. A study of 30 women sniffing newborns’ pajamas found that the scent increased activity in the brain’s rewards system.

23. THEIR BRAINS HAVE ALMOST AS MANY NEURONS AS AN ADULT’S.

A child’s brain changes dramatically over the first years of its life. But the number of neurons stays roughly the same from birth—somewhere between 86 and 100 billion. However, the brain will develop thousands more synapses (connections between neurons) in the first two years after birth.

24. THEY CAN SEE THINGS ADULTS DON’T.

Because babies’ eyes aren’t completely developed, 3- and 4-month-old kids don’t have perceptual constancy, or the ability to recognize the same object in different lights, sizes, and colors. But a 2016 study found that babies at that age can see slight differences in images caused by changes in illumination—while adults cannot.

25. THEY GROW UP SO FAST.

It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. In the first six months, the average baby grows up to an inch per month, and doubles in weight. By a baby’s first birthday, she’ll have tripled in weight since birth.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
arrow
Lists
12 Pieces of 100-Year-Old Advice for Dealing With Your In-Laws
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The familial friction between in-laws has been a subject for family counselors, folklorists, comedians, and greeting card writers for generations—and getting along with in-laws isn't getting any easier. Here are some pieces of "old tyme" advice—some solid, some dubious, some just plain ridiculous—about making nice with your new family.

1. ALWAYS VOTE THE SAME WAY AS YOUR FATHER-IN-LAW (EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE).

It's never too soon to start sowing the seeds for harmony with potential in-laws. An 1896 issue of one Alabama newspaper offered some advice to men who were courting, and alongside tips like “Don’t tell her you’re wealthy. She may wonder why you are not more liberal,” it gave some advice for dealing with prospective in-laws: “Always vote the same ticket her father does,” the paper advised, and “Don’t give your prospective father-in-law any advice unless he asks for it.”

2. MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

According to an 1886 issue of Switchmen’s Journal, “A greybeard once remarked that it would save half the family squabbles of a generation if young wives would bestow a modicum of the pains they once took to please their lovers in trying to be attractive to their mothers-in-law.”

3. KEEP YOUR OPINIONS TO YOURSELF.

In 1901, a Wisconsin newspaper published an article criticizing the 19th century trend of criticizing mothers-in-law (a "trend" which continues through to today):

“There has been a foolish fashion in vogue in the century just closed which shuts out all sympathy for mothers-in-law. The world is never weary of listening to the praises of mothers ... Can it be that a person who is capable of so much heroic unselfishness will do nothing worthy of gratitude for those who are dearest and nearest to her own children?”

Still, the piece closed with some advice for the women it was defending: “The wise mother-in-law gives advice sparingly and tries to help without seeming to help. She leaves the daughter to settle her own problems. She is the ever-blessed grandmother of the German fairy tales, ready to knit in the corner and tell folk stories to the grandchildren.”

4. IF RECEIVING ADVICE, JUST LISTEN AND SMILE. EVEN IF IT PAINS YOU.

Have an in-law who can't stop advising you on what to do? According to an 1859 issue of The American Freemason, you'll just have to grin and bear it: “If the daughter-in-law has any right feeling, she will always listen patiently, and be grateful and yielding to the utmost of her power.”

Advice columnist Dorothy Dix seemed to believe that it would be wise to heed an in-law's advice at least some of the time. Near the end of World War II, Dix received a letter from a mother-in-law asking what to do with her daughter-in-law, who had constantly shunned her advice and now wanted to move in with her. Dix wrote back, “Many a daughter-in-law who has ignored her husband’s mother is sending out an SOS call for help in these servantless days,” and advised the mother-in-law against agreeing to the arrangement.

5. STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN. AND CLOSETS. AND CUPBOARDS.

An 1881 article titled "Concerning the Interference of the Father-in-Law and Mother-in-Law in Domestic Affairs," which appeared in the Rural New Yorker, had a great deal of advice for the father-in-law:

“He will please to keep out of the kitchen just as much as he possibly can. He will not poke his nose into closets or cupboards, parley with the domestics, investigate the condition of the swill barrel, the ash barrel, the coal bin, worry himself about the kerosene or gas bills, or make purchases of provisions for the family under the pretence that he can buy more cheaply than the mistress of the house; let him do none of these things unless especially commissioned so to do by the mistress of the house.”

The article further advises that if a father-in-law "thinks that the daughter-in-law or son-in-law is wasteful, improvident or a bad manager, the best thing for him to do, decidedly, is to keep his thought to himself, for in all probability things are better managed and better taken care of by the second generation than they were by the first. And even if they are not, it is far better to pass the matter over in silence than to comment upon the same, and thereby engender bad feelings.”

6. NEVER COHABITATE.

While there is frequent discussion about how to achieve happiness with the in-laws in advice columns and magazines, rarely does this advice come from a judge. In 1914, after a young couple was married, they quickly ran into issues. “The wife said she was driven from the house by her mother-in-law,” a newspaper reported, “and the husband said he was afraid to live with his wife’s people because of the threatening attitude of her father on the day of the wedding.” It got so bad that the husband was brought up on charges of desertion. But Judge Strauss gave the couple some advice:

“[Your parents] must exercise no influence over you now except a peaceful influence. You must establish a home of your own. Even two rooms will be a start and lay up a store of happiness for you.”

According to the paper, they agreed to go off and rent a few rooms.

Dix agreed that living with in-laws was asking for trouble. In 1919, she wrote that, “In all good truth there is no other danger to a home greater than having a mother-in-law in it.”

7. COURT YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

The year 1914 wasn’t the first time a judge handed down advice regarding a mother-in-law from the bench. According to The New York Times, in 1899 Magistrate Olmsted suggested to a husband that “you should have courted your mother-in-law and then you would not have any trouble ... I courted my mother-in-law and my home life is very, very happy.”

8. THINK OF YOUR IN-LAWS AS YOUR "IN LOVES."

Don't think of your in-laws as in-laws; think of them as your family. In 1894, an article in The Ladies’ Home Journal proclaimed, “I will not call her your mother-in-law. I like to think that she is your mother in love. She is your husband’s mother, and therefore yours, for his people have become your people.”

Helen Marshall North, writing in The Home-Maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine four years earlier, agreed: “No man, young or old, who smartly and in public, jests about his mother-in-law, can lay the slightest claim to good breeding. In the first place, if he has proper affection for his wife, that affection includes, to some extent at least, the mother who gave her birth ... the man of fine thought and gentle breeding sees his own mother in the new mother, and treats her with the same deference, and, if necessary, with the same forbearance which he gladly yields his own.”

9. BE THANKFUL YOU HAVE A MOTHER-IN-LAW ... OR DON'T.

Historical advice columns had two very different views on this: A 1901 Raleigh newspaper proclaimed, “Adam’s [of Adam and Eve] troubles may have been due to the fact that he had no mother-in-law to give advice,” while an earlier Yuma paper declared, “Our own Washington had no mother-in-law, hence America is a free nation.”

10. DON'T BE PICKY WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING A WIFE; CHOOSE A MOTHER-IN-LAW INSTEAD.

By today's standards, the advice from an 1868 article in The Round Table is incredibly sexist and offensive. Claiming that "one wife is, after all, pretty much the same as another," and that "the majority of women are married at an age when their characters are still mobile and plastic, and can be shaped in the mould of their husband's will," the magazine advised, “Don’t waste any time in the selection of the particular victim who is to be shackled to you in your desolate march from the pleasant places of bachelorhood into the hopeless Siberia of matrimony ... In other words ... never mind about choosing a wife; the main thing is to choose a proper mother-in-law,” because "who ever dreamt of moulding a mother-in-law? That terrible, mysterious power behind the throne, the domestic Sphynx, the Gorgon of the household, the awful presence which every husband shudders when he names?"

11. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE.

As an 1894 Good Housekeeping article reminded readers:

“Young man! your wife’s mother, your redoubtable mother-in-law, is as good as your wife is and as good as your mother is; and who is your precious wife's mother-in-law? And you, venerable mother-in-law, may perhaps profitably bear in mind that the husband your daughter has chosen with your sanction is not a worse man naturally than your husband who used to dislike your mother as much as your daughter’s husband dislikes you, or as much as you once disliked your husband’s mother.”

12. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MARRY AN ORPHAN.

If all else fails, The Round Table noted that “there is one rule which will be found in all cases absolutely certain and satisfactory, and that is to marry an orphan; though even then a grandmother-in-law might turn up sufficiently vigorous to make a formidable substitute.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios