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Your 3-month-old baby: Milestones, schedule, growth spurt and more

The 3-month mark is a big one for baby milestones, and it’s totally normal to have a lot of questions about what comes next. We’ve got all the answers.

By Today's Parent
Your 3-month-old baby: Milestones, schedule, growth spurt and more

Photo: iStockphoto

Your baby is three months old! Phew, that's the fourth trimester done and dusted, and it just gets easier from here, right? (Right? Anyone?) The newborn fragility is gone, your little tree frog is uncurling and bursting out of those newborn clothes, and sleeping and eating are getting, well, if not easier than at least a little more predictable.

The three-month mark is a big one for baby milestones, and it's normal to have many questions about what's next.

3-month-old milestones

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Gross motor skills

Steady, strong and rolling along. By the end of three months, your baby can likely roll from front to back and hold their head with fewer wobbles, thanks to their strengthening neck muscles. When placed on their tummy, your baby can probably raise their head and chest and stretch out and kick their legs.

Have you noticed your baby pushing down with their legs when their feet are on a hard surface? These gross motor skills are revving up in preparation for eventual crawling and walking. But don't worry: They are a long way from making a break for it just yet!

Fine motor skills

Give that baby a hand! Their fine motor skills are developing quite nicely, so your three-month-old can do all sorts of tricks with their hands. Opening and closing their hands, bringing them together, finding their mouth and even batting at a favourite object (or at you!)—it's all happening now.

In the months ahead, your baby's hand strength and accuracy will continue to improve, so they will soon be able to grasp and hold objects and use their hands to explore. That takes babyproofing to a new level, so keep thinking a few months ahead!

Communication and cognition

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Your baby should be smiling in response to your smiles—and unprompted grins are happening by now, too. They are developing their repertoire of facial expressions, meaning they can mimic your expressions and make a few of their own. They are also starting to copy your movements, which opens the door to games like peekaboo.

Cognitively, your baby is figuring out social cues and communication, so they will be watching your face closely, following objects with their eyes and starting to recognize people and objects they know.

Your 3-month-old baby: Milestones, schedule, growth spurt and more

Developing senses

While your baby's sight is still fairly blurry, they are starting to recognize you and their closest companions, even from a distance. It's a good time to kick your communication up a notch when eye to eye with your baby, such as during feedings, changings and bathtime. A baby-safe mirror for the crib or play mat is also a good idea at this age as your baby explores their own facial expressions. Their colour vision is also improving, so adding lots of bright objects to your baby's day will help grab their attention.

At three months, your baby loves to hear the sound of your voice and can be startled and soothed by the sounds around them. Your baby is also starting to make their own deliberate sounds, so you can have your first "conversations"—taking turns, altering tone and encouraging a back-and-forth pattern teaches your baby how language works.

You're setting the stage for your baby's first words, which are still months away. This is also a great age to start sharing your favourite songs, whether that means singing to your baby or dancing together in the living room.

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Your baby can smell and taste, which you probably know already if you've struggled to switch your baby's favourite drink or introduce a bottle (which smells nothing like what they're used to). At three months, babies can also turn toward a smell they like and away from one they don't and prefer sweet tastes to bitter ones.

Still, at three months, your baby's nutritional needs are fully met by breastmilk or formula, and it's too early to be experimenting with other foods. If your baby is breastfed, they will be introduced to different tastes as mom eats different foods.

Finally, babies are learning about the world around them through their sense of touch. This includes a few things that they are starting to touch with their hands, as well as what touches them, such as the warmth of a body next to theirs, the softness of a blanket, the wetness of water and the soothing calm of massage.

Growth spurts

Growth spurts can happen at any time, but it's common for babies to hit them around 10 days, between three and six weeks, and several times afterward. Three-month growth spurts are especially common, and when a growth spurt hits, they can be fast and furious. Babies can noticeably (and measurably) gain weight and length in just 24 hours, says Michelle Lampl, a doctor and growth researcher at Emory University in Atlanta. Her studies show that infants can sprout as much as nine millimetres in length in just one day.

Settling down and circadian rhythms

At three months, your baby is starting to settle into a more distinct sleep pattern, with longer wakeful periods and more predictable—and sometimes longer—sleep periods. Hilary Myron, a paediatrician at The Montfort hospital in Ottawa, says that three months is the ideal time to start establishing more consistent sleep and wake times. "Studies of infant sleep show that babies start to establish circadian rhythms tied to the rhythmic secretion of melatonin at around three months," says Myron. Although there is a wide range of normal, babies at three months usually sleep between 11 and 15 hours during a 24-hour period. Of that, they generally spend about three or four hours in daytime naps."

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While it may be too early to expect your baby to sleep consistently through the night—which Myron defines as a six-hour stretch at this age—she says that the first step to establishing a sleep routine is to move toward a more consistent bedtime and waking time for your baby.

She recommends using feeding as the first step of the routine rather than the last so your baby doesn't learn to associate eating with falling asleep. "An ideal routine includes calm activities, such as bathtime and bedtime stories," advises Myron. "Putting your baby down sleepy but awake will help them learn to self-soothe, which promotes an ability to fall back asleep whenever they wake up through the night."

She also reminds parents that safe sleep practices change as babies age. At this age, babies should still sleep in the same room as their parents to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but they should be in their own sleep space. Once your baby starts to show signs of rolling over, it is no longer appropriate to swaddle them.

Though your baby's sleep patterns may improve at three months, Myron warns that it may not be smooth sailing. "From studies, we know that babies often have changes in their sleep patterns right before major developmental changes, many of which take place around three months," she says.

Eating more, less often

By three months, your baby should be able to go a little bit longer between meals, which means that you're spending less time feeding and more time enjoying your baby. Four or five feedings a day, and often one still at night, may seem like a lot, but your baby's stomach has grown considerably since those first few days, so they can take in more milk or formula and last longer before hunger strikes again.

baby in tummy time smiling iStock

How much should a three-month-old weigh?

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It's getting harder to compare your baby to the next, as babies start to settle into their individual growth patterns on their way to their natural spot on the percentile chart. But with their feedings becoming more firmly established, three-month-old babies can be nearly double their birth weight, and most will be between 12 and 15 pounds by the end of the third month.

Of course, there is a wide range of normal, and your healthcare provider will gauge your baby's health by how they are growing from month to month, not how they compare to the baby in the next stroller.

Can a three-month-old be teething?

It's early but not impossible for your baby to begin teething by the end of the third month. Teething can begin as early as two months, though six months is more typical. Your baby's bottom teeth (the central incisors) are typically the first ones to show up, and they're usually the first to fall out, sometime around kindergarten! (Hard to believe your little one will be trotting off to school one day, isn't it?).

Some babies show no signs or symptoms during teething, while others are quite miserable. Early symptoms can include drooling, increased fussiness and a rash. Or you may simply notice your baby gnawing on anything they can get, including their hands. Giving your baby a frozen washcloth to gum at or a cold teething toy may bring relief, but talk to your doctor if you think your baby is truly in discomfort.

What kinds of toys and activities are best for three-month-olds?

At three months, your baby will show more interest in playtime and toys, especially ones with bright colours, high-contrast, and simple sounds. They'll also enjoy being read to, which you should try to do every day, especially as part of your bedtime routine. Keep it simple with rhyming words and songs to capture their fleeting attention.

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Floor time and tummy time are also still very important at this stage of the game to encourage strong head-and-neck movements and rolling skills.

Do babies get easier at three months?

Many parents ask this question around this age after what may have been a rough newborn period: Will the sleepless nights ever end? Will the bouts of tears in the evening get better? Is there an end to the spit-up on your shoulder (or all down your back)? Lots of things are indeed changing as this fourth trimester draws to a close, and your baby is likely settling into a routine by now.

But the biggest improvement may be in you at this stage, and that helps your baby, too. You're an expert at changing diapers, you can tell the hunger howl from the exhausted cry, and you can feed your baby without even opening your eyes at this point. So take comfort in your expertise and your baby's steady progress from mewling lamprey to howler monkey, ready to explore the world.

woman holding and burping a baby iStock

Gear to invest in when baby hits three months old:

If you haven't already invested in these newborn checklist items, now is definitely the time to scoop up the gear you need to bring you through the rest of the first year (and beyond).

Should I wake my 3-month-old baby to feed?

Generally speaking, parenting sages and medical experts believe that most babies shouldn't lose sleep over delayed or missed feedings. More often than not, babies will wake on their own and make it pretty clear that they're jonesing for a belly full of milk.

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That said, some 3-month-old babies have medical conditions that may require more intense meal monitoring. As always, it's best to speak with your doctor about this.

Can I give my 3-month-old baby cereal?

Breast milk or formula is best till babies are about six months old, though you can chat with your baby's pediatrician to get a slightly earlier green light in some instances. Either way, most doctors and health experts believe three months old is just too early for primitive digestive systems to break down the sugars, fibre, and other macronutrients in infant cereals.

If you already bought a container, the good news is that it's shelf-stable and can definitely last a few more months.

This article was originally published on Aug 16, 2019

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