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How Baby Signing Can Save Your Sanity and Strengthen Your Bond

You may not realize it yet, but your baby is a brilliant behaviorist. In fact, infants have been skillfully employing B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning methods on their lab-rat parents with remarkable success since their very first breaths.


“How?” You ask.

Crying.

It’s a well-known fact that crying is how babies communicate their needs. But the truth is that not only is crying a form of communication, it is also a stimulus to provoke a response. In Operant Conditioning, this is called “negative reinforcement” – obtaining a desired action (i.e. feeding) through removing an unpleasant stimulus (i.e. crying) once the desired action is performed. By rewarding our compliance with ceasing to cry, they condition us to immediately respond to their insistent requests.

My son Isaiah is one of the most genius behaviorists ever. At eight months old, he switched up his crying-stimulus with screech-screaming to convey his displeasure and condition us to respond.

Let’s just say we nearly lost our minds like the old, abused lab-rats we were.

But instead of resigning ourselves to such a fate, we made a battle-plan to turn the tables on him using positive reinforcement – the introduction of a rewarding stimulus (i.e. feeding) upon obtaining a desired behavior. In this instance, the behavior we hoped to obtain was communication through baby signing.

Baby signing is communicating with your baby through the use of American Sign Language (ASL) or symbolic hand motions. Once our screeching-son learned that he could convey his desires through signing, the stress level in our house dramatically diminished.

As did the decibel level.

Our success wasn’t instantaneous though. When we first began teaching Isaiah, he was not at all interested in what-the-heck-we-were-doing-with-our-hands. Instead, he was intensely focused on the object in our hands (usually food). What we learned from him was that babies need frequent, consistent repetition in order to connect meaning to gestures.

Think about it, we teach infants to sign from an early age: high fives, fist bumps, clapping, waving, and making motions to songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Babies acquire these gestures naturally because we perform them frequently under the same set of conditions. If babies can learn these motions from a young age, they can learn how to sign. But as with all reinforcement, consistent repetition is the key.

Here are the four signs our family has found most helpful:

1 | “More”

How to teach it: Clustering your fingertips all together as if you had an imaginary puppet on each hand, touch the fingertips of both hands together. This is an easy one for kids to do and for you to recognize. The best way to teach it is to give a little bit of food to your baby and reserve the rest out of their reach. Every time they finish what’s in front of them, sign and say “more,” and then give them a little more. After a couple days, wait for them to give the sign back to you before giving them the food. It works best to keep this word just for asking for more food or drink.

Why teach it:  Before my son learned “more,” he would scream whenever he finished the food in front of him. The actual process of teaching him made him even more furious, but after practicing for several days at every meal, he caught on and quit screaming when he was all out of food. I really wish we had started teaching him sooner.

2 | “Please”

How to teach it:  Rub your chest with a flat palm. Use this when you know your child wants something. Hold what they want in your hand, show them the sign while saying, “please,” and give them the object of their desire. Just like with “more,” use it consistently for a few days and then wait to see if they will sign for you before giving them what they want. To avoid confusion with “more” in the early stages of signing, use this with anything except food and drink.

Why teach it:  I am a sucker for holding my son anytime he wants to be held. But at the age of one, I didn’t want him screeching at me, demanding for me to hold him. Now he knows that all he needs to do is say “please” and I will scoop him up in an instant.

3 | “Help”

How to teach it:  Technically, the ASL sign for “help” is to make a fist with your right hand and set it on the open palm of your left hand and then draw both hands upward together in this position. My kids found it a little hard to differentiate between the motion for “help” and the motion for “more” because both require that your hands touch each other. So we decided to make our family’s sign for “help” a fist in the air, like Superman flying (fitting, right?). When your baby is whining out of frustration, offer the “help” sign and then assist them.

Why teach it: This sign was so helpful for both of my kids. It empowered them to know that help was on the way and they didn’t need to get frustrated.

4 | “Wait”

How to teach it: To sign “wait,” hold your first three fingers out so that they form a “w.” Use this when your child asks for something and you can’t get it for them immediately. I have introduced this when my children have signed “more” or “please.” I give the sign, say “wait” reassuringly, and delay giving them what they want for 10 seconds or so.

Why teach it: There are times when your kids want something that you just can’t give them, maybe because you are trying to make the food or you have your hands full. Signing “wait” for them confirms that you know what they want and will give it to them momentarily.

If you are serious about implementing signing with your baby, I’d suggest going on YouTube to find videos of different signs you can use. When you introduce the first sign, wait until your child has mastered it before adding a new one. Once signing has been established as a means of communication between you and your baby, you can start introducing signs for objects too. In our family, we use signs for “dog,” “cat,” “Cheerios,” “milk,” “Mom,” and “Dad.”

Communicating through baby signing may have freed us from being the subjects of our son’s negative reinforcement trials. But implementing sign language hasn’t just reduced crying in our household. More importantly, it has given our son confidence that his parents understand him, which fosters a more secure attachment. Don’t get me wrong – we’re incredibly grateful to have regained our sanity, but the most rewarding effect of signing has been the strengthened bond between us and our son.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Whether you're filling out your own registry or shopping for a soon-to-be-mama in your life, it can be hard to narrow down what exactly new moms need (versus what will just end up cluttering the nursery). That's why we paired up with the baby gear experts at Pottery Barn Kids to create a registry guide featuring everything from the gear you'll use over and over to the perfect gifts under $50.

Check out the picks below, and happy shopping (and registering)!

MUST-HAVE BABY GEAR

These five gift ideas are designed to make #momlife easier while solving some of the most common parenting dilemmas.

1. Doona All-In-One Infant Car Seat/Stroller

One of the first things you learn when you become a mom? Those infant car seats are heavy. Which is what makes the Doona All-In-One Infant Car Seat/Stroller so genius. It's the world's first completely integrated mobility solution, quickly transforming from safe car seat to functional stroller without any extra parts. Simply pop out the wheels, pull up the handle bar, and you're ready to roll.

Doona All-in-one Infant Car Seat / Stroller, $499

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GIFTS THAT CAN BE PERSONALIZED

Even the most utilitarian gift feels a little more special with some personalization. Here are some of our favorite options that can be customized with baby's name or monogram.

1. Nursery Blankets

You'll never forget the blanket you bring your newborn home in. And with Pottery Barn Kids' assortment of blankets, there's a wrap to suit every new mama's style. Choose from fuzzy neutral patterns or stylish printed options, and add baby's name for an extra personal touch.

Nursery Blankets, Starting at $39.50

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GIFTS THAT GROW WITH THEM

Save money and space by gifting items that will last long after baby's first year. These clever gift items will have mama saying "thank you!" for years to come.

1. west elm x pbk Mid-Century Convertible Crib

A convertible crib is an investment in years of sweet dreams. We love this mid-century-style option made from sustainably sourced wood with child-safe, water-based finishes. When your baby outgrows their crib (sniff!), it easily converts into a toddler bed with the matching conversion kit.

west elm x pbk Mid-Century Convertible Crib, $399

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GIFTS UNDER $50

Sometimes the littlest gifts mean the most. Here are our favorite gifts under $50 they'll be sure to cherish.

1. west elm x pbk Dot Muslin Swaddle Set

When you're raising a newborn, you can never have too many swaddles. Perfect for naptime, burp cloths, stroller covers, and spontaneous play mats, a muslin swaddle will always come in handy. And we especially love this neutral patterned collection in platinum, nightshade, and peacock.

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Learn more and explore all Pottery Barn Kids' registry must-haves here.

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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They say there's no use in crying over it, but for pumping mamas, spilled milk is a major upset.

When you're working so hard to make sure your baby has breast milk, you don't want to lose a drop, and Chrissy Teigen knows this all too well.

The mom of two posted a video to social media Wednesday showing her efforts to rescue breastmilk from a tabletop. She used various utensils and a syringe to try to get the milk back in the bottle.

"I spilled my breastmilk and this is how important it is in this house," she says while suctioning up milk with what appears to be a baster.

In a follow-up video Teigen continues to try to rescue the spilled milk.

"We're trying," she says as she suctions up a drop or two. "I got some."

Teigen is currently breastfeeding baby Miles, her son with husband John Legend, and has been very public about the fact that she pumps a lot as a working mom.

She's also been open about the fact that milk supply has always been an issue for her, not just with Miles but with Luna, too.

"I actually loved [pumping] because I'm a collector of things, and so when I found out I could pump I [did it] so much because I knew the more you pumped, the more milk you'd make," she told POPSUGAR back in March. "So I loved collecting my breast milk and seeing how much I could get, even if it was very, very little."

Like a lot of moms, Teigen did struggle emotionally when a pump session wouldn't get her the ounces she wanted.

"I wasn't producing a lot of milk, and it was frustrating. When you're frustrated, [it can also make you] not produce that much."

Research backs her up. Stress has been linked to lower milk production. Because of that, she's trying to stay positive this time around, but captioned her video post "EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE" because, well, they do.


So many mothers can relate. Have you ever tried to save your breastmilk?

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What is it about networking that's just kind of...awful? Typically inconvenient and often awkward, formal networking events rarely yield the results most women (and especially mamas) are looking for.

Whether you're reentering the workforce post-baby leave or simply looking to make a complicated career switch as a busy mom (or just struggling to juggle play dates and professional meetings), making the right connections is often a hurdle that's difficult to surmount. And more and more often, networking comes up short in providing what moms really need.

When time is truly at a premium—a session swapping business cards can be hard to prioritize. Shapr wants to change all that.

Designed with busy people in mind, Shapr is an app with an algorithm that uses tagged interests, location, and professional experience to match you with 10-15 inspiring professional connections a day. You swipe to indicate interest in networking with any of them, and if the interest is mutual, you're connected. (But don't worry, that's where the similarities to that dating app end.)

It makes it easier to connect with the right people.

From there, you can chat, video conference, and even meet in person with potential mentors, partners, and investors while growing your real-life network. No more wasting hours trying to pick someone's brain only to discover they don't have the right experience you need. And no more awkward, stilted small talk—even suggests a few preset icebreakers to help get the conversation rolling more quickly.

The best part? You could do virtually all your connecting from your couch post-bedtime.

It simplifies switching careers or industries.

Sysamone Phaphone is a real mom who was fed up with traditional networking options. When she quit her full-time job in healthcare to pursue founding a startup, she quickly realized that in-person networking events weren't only failing to connect her to the right people, they were also difficult for a single mom of two to even attend. "I was complaining to a friend that I was so tired and didn't know how I was going to keep doing it this way when she recommended the Shapr app," Phaphone says. "I tried it right there at dinner and started swiping. [Later], in my pajamas, I got my first connection."

From there, Phaphone was hooked. Her network suddenly exploded with developers, potential partners she could work with, and even people to hire for the roles she needed. She was also able to connect with and empower other women in tech. Now, checking in with Shapr connections is just part of her routine. "I look for connections after drop-off at school and on my commute into the city," she says. "Then after bedtime is done, I go on to check if there is anyone I've connected with."

It helps you find a mentor—no matter where they live.

Another common roadblock Shapr removes? Location. While you probably wouldn't fly to LA from New York for a networking event, the Shapr app lets you connect and chat with the person who best meets your needs—regardless of where they're based. Even better for parents, the "mom penalty" many women contend with when trying to get back into the workforce doesn't exist on Shapr—if you have the right experience, the connections will still come.

To connect, simply create your account, enter up to ten hashtags you want to follow (either industry related like #film or #tech or by person you're seeking, such as #developer or #uxui), preset what you're looking for (investors, collaborators, etc.), and indicate how you prefer to meet. To connect with more people at once, Shapr also has community groups within the app around interest topics that you can join. And even though the connection begins in the digital space, it often results in the in-person experiences mamas crave.

"I wish I could encourage more moms and dads to use it because it has been a lifesaver for me," Phaphone says. "It empowered my career and career choices, and it provides so much convenience. I can put my kids to bed and not go to an event, but still meet 20 people in a night."

For women looking to grow their business, position, or simply achieve a little self-growth, Shapr is changing the way we connect. This powerful new app could change everything, mama. Download it today to get started.

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