Whilst much research has focused on how infants imitate not many studies have looked at why, although some studies suggest that imitation function as a form of communication.
Given that oral gestures (mouth opening & tongue poking) are the most likely to be imitated by newborns, the question arises as to what is special about oral gestures and what function do they serve? I have recently run a study to explore the idea that the imitation of oral gestures may play a specific role during the newborn period by facilitating breastfeeding.
These findings are currently in press and will be published soon.
Kennedy-Costantini, S., & Nielsen, M. (in press). Exploring potential causes of individual differences in the expression of neonatal imitation. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. K. Schackelford (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Personality and Individual Differences. London, UK: SAGE.