Here’s what you need to know and understand about babies, even very young babies. They are competent, alert, paying attention, and learning all the time. Don’t ever doubt it.

Experts used to believe (and some still do) that an infant peacefully lying awake in his crib couldn’t possibly be ‘doing’ anything, or at least not anything worthwhile. One influential author even believes that babies “should not be put down at all” and that “babies placed in cots live in a state of longing…” These subjective assumptions and projections are not only untrue, they grossly underestimate the infant mind and are, quite honestly, a little egocentric on the part of the adult. Babies are only capable of being followers, never initiators? They have no mind or will of their own? They can’t take an interest in life unless they are in the arms of an adult? Janet Lansbury, The Secrets of Infant Learning 


A short story to illustrate: R. is just a bit older than four months. We visited the pediatrician on Monday, and I told him that in reviewing her medical records, I had noticed that he had recommended she start taking a daily dose of Vitamin D drops back in September, yet her previous foster parents hadn’t mentioned this to me, nor had they provided me with drops. I was wondering if maybe they had been discontinued for some reason.

The pediatrician confirmed that he had recommended the drops, and she should be taking them every day, so I purchased them. On day one, R. eagerly accepted the drops, sucking them down without a problem, although she slightly furrowed her brow at the taste. Of course, I explained to her that these were her vitamins, and she needed them to grow healthy and strong, and I understood that they didn’t taste as good as her milk.

On day two, three, and four, she cooperated with taking the drops, although a little less readily, and again with a furrowed brow, and a bit of a grimace at the taste. I am trying to establish a consistent rhythm and routine with her, so I always give her the drops at about the same time of day, after a diaper change, and before her bottle.

Today (day 5), as soon as she saw the dropper, and heard me say, “It’s time for your vitamins,” she tightly clamped her lips shut! She knew what was coming, and her message was clear. “I don’t like these vitamins, and I’m not interested in participating in taking them.” I stayed calm, and explained that she needed her vitamins, and asked for her cooperation. She resisted. She pushed my hand away. She spit the vitamins, no matter how slowly I dispensed them from the syringe. She cried, and kicked her feet. She pouted, and made raspberries, but not the ones she makes when she’s playing and happy. These were more like “PFFFT…. This is yukky, and I don’t like it!”

At four and a half months old, R. clearly knows what she likes and wants, and what she doesn’t. She clearly understood what was coming when she saw the medicine dropper today, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t interested in participating. She is clear and strong willed, which delights me to no end. I believe these traits will serve her well in life, and I admire her spunk.

As much as possible, I want to honor R.’s preferences. But vitamin drops are not negotiable. So, even though she protests, I will continue to give them to her in as respectful  a way as possible, asking for her participation and cooperation, acknowledging her feelings, and letting her know that I hear her, and understand that she doesn’t like them. I will also search for a brand that meets my standards for quality, but might be a bit more palatable to her, and hopefully she will learn to appreciate that while they don’t taste great, taking her vitamins is important, and I’m not needlessly torturing her!

Do you have a story to share that illustrates a young baby’s incredible learning ability and competence? I’d love to hear it.



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MissMaryMac December 8, 2012

You may want to look into babyD drops. I’m pretty sure it’s only coconut oil and vit d and its literally one tasteless drop. Or just make sure she gets lots of sunshine 🙂

AK December 8, 2012

I’m wondering if you could hide the drops in a bottle of milk? Maybe even only an ounce or two of milk, when she’s reeeeeally hungry so you know she’ll suck it all right down.

Lisa December 9, 2012

AK, I’d prefer not to “hide” the drops in milk or food, out of respect for the baby. The reality is that there will be times when she has to take vitamins or medicine, and it may not taste good. I don’t want to try to “trick” her, even if it might make it “easier” to “get” her to take the vitamins. I think babies are far too intelligent and aware to fall for these tactics for very long, and why risk forming a negative association with her food? Also, I want her to know that she can count on me to be up front and honest with her about all things, especially when it comes to what I’m asking her to put into her body. I really see this as an example of a very subtle way in which we, as very caring and well meaning adults, can, from very early on, undermine or support a baby’s intelligence, cooperation, and trust in us.

janetlansbury December 9, 2012

Really good point, Lisa.

Chris December 8, 2012

I was also going to say I know there are a few brands that are only one drop instead of the teaspoon or so some brands are. You can probably find them at a natural foods store more easily. Also, you could try mixing it with a bottle. It might make it diluted enough to not bother her.

Katie December 8, 2012

To echo the above commenter – shop around! We bought our drops at Whole Foods, recommended by our pediatrician – Carlson’s Baby D Drops. They are completely tasteless – I tried them and didn’t taste a thing and my daughter never, ever protested them. I was nursing and gave them to her by dropping them on my nipple before feeding, I believe you could do the same with the bottle nipple. I agree that the vitamin is a non-negotiable but it may not need to be such a negative experience for your sweet baby girl.

Emily Plank December 8, 2012

Lisa!!! I am so happy to read that baby R is with you!!! 🙂 Sending you a big happy hug from Iowa.

Lisa December 9, 2012

Thanks so much Emily! I’m in heaven!

Mama Mo December 8, 2012

When my niece was 9 days old my sister had a sudden, life-threatening hemorrhage due to retained placenta. There was no pumped milk stored, and my sister wasn’t interested in giving formula, so I nursed the baby while my sister was in the hospital. That 9-day-old bundle of amazing knew that I wasn’t her mama. She nursed when she was hungry, and often for comfort, but there was a certain sense of tension about her, and she studied me suspiciously from one eye while doing so. When, after about 14 hours of separation, I handed her back to her relieved mama she relaxed. Her little fists opened, and she gave a big contented sigh. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and quite a testament to the awareness of infants!

Lisa December 9, 2012

Mama Mo,

What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing. I love the way you describe your niece- “a 9 -day- old bundle of amazing!” Babies are quire amazing in so many ways if we can just open our eyes to see it! Early on, when R. was just a just about 12 days old, I had an experience with her, different in the details, but similar in that it was clear to me that her awareness was well beyond what most people would ever begin to imagine.

Vanessa December 8, 2012

Mama Mo — what an amazing story — both about how your niece responded and also to the love and support you offered both your niece and your sister.

amy gennrich December 8, 2012

I’m so happy that baby R is with you! It makes my day to know you two are together now. And I love hearing how you handle a situation where she doesn’t want to participate. That’s where I get flustered with my RIE parenting.

Lisa December 9, 2012

Thanks Amy! I’m happy that the post was helpful to you. You know, there are always two people in a relationship, and sometimes our wants and needs will be at odds with the other person’s. As parents or caregivers, there may be many times when we have an agenda that the baby may not be thrilled about participating in. Sometimes, we can let it go, and other times, we may have to persist- especially if we have knowledge that the baby doesn’t, for instance, that vitamins or medicine are necessary. In cases like this, our calm but brief explanation, maintaining a respectful attitude, along with a belief that the baby is intelligent and capable, can go a long way towards finding an acceptable solution.

Jayadeep Purushothaman December 8, 2012

“But vitamin drops are not negotiable. ” ? There are millions of children out there living a very healthy life without taking those vitamin drops(and even the vaccine shots), so don’t give it to her if she doesn’t like it. Give her good food when she starts eating solids that contains the vitamins. Watch out for the drug companies that gives you all these BS about vitamin drops and shots.

Lisa December 9, 2012

Thanks for your comment, but for a number of reasons, vitamin drops are not negotiable in our case. It’s got nothing to do with drug companies pushing their wares. My choice is based on R.’s health history and challenges, current research, and the advice of a trusted doctor. I respect that each family must and will make their own choices and follow their own path when it comes to these matters, and in this case, I am sharing my preference for the baby I have been entrusted to care for.

Cheryl December 9, 2012

Our pediatrician recommended Just D infant drops by SunLight Vitamins. They are tasteless drops that you can add to one bottle a day. Congrats on getting the baby home!

Natalie Adamson December 9, 2012

My 5month old daughter is so tuned in to our family and has been right from the start there are many examples that spring to mind but one that happens daily is at bedtime. Whilst waiting for my four year old to wash and get dressed for bed my 5 month old daughter will lie on her sisters cabin bed and wait for her. Each night she will protest about this not by crying but by shouting out ‘ugh ugh’ at first I thought she just didn’t like laying on the bed but then I soon realised that she is calling for her sister! As soon as my 4yr old climbs the ladder up to the bed she will shriek and smile they then lie facing each other and my youngest will vocalise many different happy sounds whilst looking into the eyes of her sister. It had always been our routine to read stories and sing songs at bed time but as I would start to read the books my four month old would raise her voice louder! In the end I stopped reading and just listened to the girls conversations my 4yr old is totally besotted with her sister and will respond to her by nodding, kissing, smiling and saying ‘you tell me all about it’ she then listens as my 4 month old speaks to her. It’s a really heart warming thing to watch and I now look forward to hearing these bedtime exchanges especially as during the day she is not very vocal at all, I think she is saving it up for her bedtime chat with her big sister x

Lisa December 9, 2012


Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and heartwarming example of not only your young infant’s awareness, but of the relationship developing between your girls. I have tears in my eyes. How absolutely wonderful it is to hear how closely you were observing to understand what your baby was trying to tell you, and to hear how you adjusted your response to support your baby’s desires, and the development of the relationship between your baby girl and her big sister.

Tiffany December 9, 2012

I second (or third) the Carlson babyD Drops. I drop one drop onto my finger and let my (12-mo-old) son suck it off my finger. He hates taking the drop straight out of the bottle, but will almost always lick or suck it off the tip of my finger without a problem. They are extremely mild tasting and most babies don’t need more than a drop a day.

Elena December 9, 2012

Another vote for Carlson’s Baby D Drops. They are tasteless and all you need is one drop.

Kate Orson December 10, 2012

Hi Lisa, great post! I love the way you show so much empathy for her thoughts and feelings about the drops.
I have a brand that uses just one drop, my daughter who’s 15 months quite likes them, and they are good quality, But I live in Switzerland so I’m not sure if they’re available in the US. Anyway, I think the brand is called ‘Huile’ or ‘Wild’,

Anastasia December 17, 2012

When my little girl as two months old she was nursing and I’d started to drift into lala land when I noticed she wasn’t suckling anymore. Instead, she was putting her mouth to my nipple, then pulling it off. I watched her, trying to determine if anything was wrong (she’d recently had some congestion that caused her to arch away when nursing) then asked, “Well, what in the world are you doing?” She looked up at me with the most playful gleam in her eye, then, still looking at me, slowly put her mouth onto my nipple, and pulled off of it again. The next time she did it, I wobbled my breast back and forth in her mouth and asked in a lilting voice, “Do you want that?” Her face broke into the biggest grin. She wasn’t laughing yet, but I knew if she could I’d hear her squeal with glee. We continued playing that way for a minute or two, until she ended the game by placing her mouth onto my nipple, quickly latching on going back to nursing.

Being a first time mom with little exposure to infants younger than six months, all the books I’d read led me to believe that for at least the “third trimester” babies only need milk, sleep and diaper changes. I was duly surprised that she could initiate play at that stage.

Alexandra Labunets January 23, 2013

That’s so funny because my 5 month old loved her vit D drops from the start! They are manufactured by Enfamil. And from now on, every time she sees the dropper she is looking forward to sucking the contents out of it, opens her mouth and everything 🙂 The other thing that she totally understands is bath time. She could be crying and not in a good mood at all, for whatever reason, but as soon as you turn on the bath water and she hears it, her face just spreads into a wide smile, teary eyed and all. 🙂 She also knows that if you take one of her arms out of the onesie that the next one is coming and she helps you wiggle it out and will close her eyes right before you pull it over her head, either way on or off 🙂

Lisa January 23, 2013

Hi Alexandra,

Mine is still not fond of vitamin drops, but she has always loved bath time, and today she ate her first solid food (organic carrots), and she thought they were pretty yummy! What is amazing to me (always and still) is how much babies do understand, and at what a young age, and how they are able to communicate with us and participate in their own process, if we are just open to their cues!

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