our everyday life

Can Babies Recognize Emotions?

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

Many parents falsely believe that their infant is oblivious to the emotions of others until he's at least 6 months old. Don't believe it; your baby can sense and react to how you feel emotionally from the time he's born, explains ZerotoThree.org, a website published by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.


Parental stress rubs off on kids, explains Andrew Garner, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Garner told WebMD that infants and children are very perceptive "social barometers." What does this mean? When a parent is obsessing over financial, relationship or other problems, she becomes less focused on the needs of her baby and in turn, an uncared for infant may feel his parent's stress rise. He may also feel afraid and alone.


A 2009 National Parent Survey conducted by Hart Research Associates found that, of more than 1,600 parents of children age three and younger, one-third of the participants understood that a baby can be aware and impacted by the emotional ups and downs of a parent. However, two-thirds of the parents surveyed didn't comprehend how profoundly the social and emotional development of infants and toddlers is swayed by their early experiences. The survey suggests that it's critical for parents to be self-aware and attuned to their feelings.

Handling Your Emotions Around Baby

Even the most lovable parents can have off days or moments when caring for an infant makes them want to pull their hair out. Although feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by your baby from time to time is normal, it's critical to deal with such negative feelings in a healthy manner, explains HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Taking a brief break from your baby when your fuse is short can protect him from your negative emotions. Place your little one in his playpen or crib while you regroup. Spend a few minutes meditating, taking slow, deep breaths, listening to soothing music or calling a supportive friend.


Infants thrive when they are surrounding by happy, positive people. Talk to your health care provider if you feel that your baby is suffering the fallout from your negative emotions or those of your spouse or partner. Joining a parent support group where you can listen to others and share your own concerns can help you feel less alone. The simple act of getting out of the house for a couple of hours can help you keep upbeat and benefit your baby's emotional well being.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images