Get In Sync

Abyaz, Melinda and Alianna (5 days)Guest post by Tracy Cutchlow.

Baby loves it when you mimic her facial expressions, coo at her little sounds, and gaze into her eyes.

When baby tries to engage with you in one of those ways, she needs you to respond in kind. This “serve and return” interaction is foundational in wiring baby’s brain. It helps the brain develop in a way that supports stress regulation, empathy, and emotional stability. But sometimes baby needs a break.


I was leaning over my newborn on a play mat, laughing and cooing, when baby suddenly turned her head to the left, lost in a million-mile stare. I had an urge to say, “Hello? Where’d you go?” Then I remembered that when a baby is overstimulated, she tells you by

  • turning her head away,
  • closing her eyes,
  • avoiding your gaze,
  • tensing up, or
  • suddenly becoming fussy.

It was neat for me to understand what was happening. And it helped me resist my initial urge to bring baby back by calling her name or waving in front of her face. My baby turned back to me just a few moments later, ready to carry on.


Matching baby’s lulls by patiently waiting, and then engaging when she does, is a hallmark of responsive, sensitive parenting. You’re attuned to baby, aware of baby’s cues, and quick to respond to baby’s cues. Sensitive parenting helps baby form a trusting relationship with you, called “secure attachment.”

Parents who continually ignore or reject their baby’s bids for interaction and reassurance don’t create a trusting relationship. Attachment has nothing to do with whether baby is constantly attached to your body.


When mama and baby are in sync, their biological rhythms are, too. For example, during face-to-face interaction, their heartbeats become coordinated with a lag of less than one second. When parent and baby are out of sync, baby gets stressed.

Harvard researcher Ed Tronick conducted “still face” experiments in which mothers simply gave a blank stare when their babies wanted to engage. The babies tried smiling, pointing, waving, and screeching, all to no avail. Babies then began to turn away, cry, and slump. When the mothers quit their act, it took their babies a moment to trust them again and reengage. But they did reengage. Building (or breaking) a trusting relationship with baby is a process that happens over several years.


Secure attachment Insecure attachment
Child turns to you for
protection and comfort
Child turns away from
you when distressed
Child uses you as a base from
which to explore the world
Child alternates between
clinging and pushing you away

Excerpted from Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science by Tracy Cutchlow,

Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned So Far) is a different kind of parenting book–one you’ll actually have time to read. It’s beautifully photographed, with one tip per page. Zero to Five summarizes the best research on a range of topics: engaging with baby, sleeping, feeding, screen time, discipline, and more. Get a sneak peek of the book.

Opening photo of Abyaz Melinda, and Alianna (5 days old). Copyright Betty Udesen/Pear Press.

team-tracyTracy Cutchlow is the author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned So Far)She was the editor of the bestselling book Brain Rules for Baby. As a journalist, she has worked for MSN Money and the Seattle Times. She lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter. Get more of Tracy’s parenting tips.

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