0-3 Months: Your baby unfolds
At birth, your baby’s body will be quite tucked in — arms flexed, hands in tiny fists, legs and feet drawn up, and a head that lolls to one side. Muscle control moves from the top down in infancy.
By three months, he’ll be able to lift his face when lying on his stomach and hold his head up when propped on his arms.
His hands gradually unfurl, and your baby begins to notice that his feet and hands are attached to him. By three months, he’ll swipe at a toy, grasp and shake it — the development of hand-eye coordination.
Babies learn through their senses. Newborns:
• prefer sweet tastes like breastmilk
• can distinguish mother’s scent within days of birth
• turn toward and are calmed by familiar voices
• focus within a range of eight to 12 inches, about the distance between your face (his favourite thing to look at) and his when you feed him
Babies come with a cry designed to galvanize your attention, but by the second month, your baby will start to make other sounds — long strings of oohs and aahs — what experts call protoconversation.
Babies are designed for face-to-face interaction that has a turn-taking structure. If you purse your lips or raise your eyebrows and wait patiently, your baby will try it too. And then one day, between four and eight weeks, you will smile at your baby, and his face will bloom into his first true smile.
Your baby is getting used to a new environment, to having a bigger space around him. Your baby’s experience of the world roughly matches his visual range.
• “Whenever you can, dim the lights, slow things down, keep your baby close, spend time gazing, cooing, rocking, feeding,” says Laurie McNelles, director of academic programs at Mothercraft Institute for Early Development in Toronto.
• When your baby is awake and alert, notice how intently he gazes at whatever is close enough to focus on. Let him study your face, or move a boldly patterned object slowly across his line of vision.
• Your baby is soaking up the rhythms and sounds of language. Sing to him, tell him about what you’re doing.
Cope kit: Crying
Crying tends to peak at about two months and then tapers off by four or five months. One to three hours a day of crying is average, but a few unhappy souls will cry inconsolably for hours. (If your baby is crying a lot, you should see your doctor to rule out medical causes.) Carrying your baby more may reduce the overall amount of crying. Here are some other things to try:
Feed your baby. Infants have tiny stomachs and need to eat often, around the clock.
Recreate the womb. Loud shushing or white noise, rhythmic movement and swaddling (wrap your baby burrito-style) are time-honoured baby soothers. While a tiny crying baby shouldn’t be left alone to “work it out,” you may need a break — every parent needs support. If you feel very frustrated or angry during a crying jag, put your baby in a safe place like her crib, and leave the room until you feel calmer.
3-6 Months: The settled baby
Your baby is gaining more control through her middle. At three months, if you hold her in a sitting position, her head will slump forward; gradually she’ll be able to hold up her head and shoulders and sit with support. If she hasn’t already, she will soon figure out how to roll front to back and later, the other way.
She’s found her hands and feet by now and her developing hand-eye coordination means she can reach for and drag objects to her. Her developing vision allows her to focus on objects further away and track her big brother zooming by!
By five months, she’ll begin to add consonants to her repertoire of sounds — b, d, m, n, w, j come first because they use the same muscles as sucking — and a few weeks later, she’ll start putting it all together — bababa, nenene, mamama. “Receptive language is in active development at this stage,” says McNelles. “A six-month-old knows what bye-bye means, even though she won’t say it yet.”
Your baby, awake more now, is more easily soothed and more social. She knows your family as her special people. She may be more reserved with strangers; those full body smiles will be reserved for you. She will find ways to engage you, cooing, babbling and shrieking with delight when you are nearby.
Talking to your baby, singing, providing lots of physical contact, playing on the floor and responding to her attempts to communicate are all important.
• Let your baby watch the action. A little bouncy seat is great for this, and so is a front carrier when you’re out walking.
• Show and name objects for your baby (“See this red apple?”) and let her experience all kinds of textures, colours and shapes.
• Add something new to your baby’s day, like a song or the sensation of water trickling on her belly at bath time. Babies thrive on novelty, says McNelles. This morning you tickled her toes during a diaper change; this afternoon you might pedal her legs.
Cope Kit: Hungry Baby?
“I find that often parents are anxious to start solid food too early, thinking that this will help their babies sleep longer at night. Or they see that their baby is watching them eat at the table, and conclude that the baby is hungry,” says Melisande Neal, a Millbrook, Ont., lactation consultant. “But breastfeeding is still the best nutrition for babies until about six months of age.
“A baby who seems really hungry is probably going through a growth spurt. So it’s better to nurse more often,” advises Neal, than to offer table foods too soon. And don’t push him to forgo night feedings at this stage: Some active babies get most of their calories during the night.
6-9 Months: Making connections
“A baby at this stage is extremely purposeful,” says McNelles. He has much more control over the upper half of his body, can push up on his hands when he’s on his tummy and, by nine months, will be able to sit without support for a few minutes. He may do the bum shuffle or roll across the floor. He will love being able to stand, with support, and bounce on your lap.
He’s also learning how to use his hands more efficiently, transferring an object from one hand to the other, clapping and banging objects together.
Eating solid food is a new adventure. Follow his lead as you introduce new tastes and textures. He’ll reach for what he enjoys, turn away when he’s less keen.
Your baby will imitate and can anticipate the actions of other people, and follow simple instructions, such as waving bye-bye to his brother, when you prompt him. He will begin to understand the meaning of words he hears often: diaper, cat, his name. Between seven and nine months, babies use what Maria Legerstee, a York University infant psychologist and researcher, calls “declarative pointing.” The baby sees something interesting, and will say ah, ah (give me that), the precursor to the use of real words in the development of speech.
Long periods of fussiness have usually pretty much gone and he’s able to express his feelings quite clearly: frustration when he can’t reach a toy or joy in seeing you, for example. He will work to capture your attention, often by making sounds, and has begun to develop some control over his feelings and actions. If he wants to be picked up, he’ll let you know by reaching up to you.
Separation anxiety often appears at about eight months. It arises out of your baby’s growing attachment to you, and his understanding that you continue to exist even when you’re out of sight. While challenging to deal with, it’s actually a sign of healthy emotional development.
Give your baby lots of opportunity to practise her growing physical skills.
• If she is trying to climb onto the couch, pile a few cushions on the floor for her with a favourite toy at the top.
• Read together every day. Songs and fingerplays also encourage her growing language skills.
• Help her explore object permanence. If you “hide” a toy partially in view, she may look for it. Peekaboo may be her favourite game.
• Reassure her when goodbye is hard and help her engage with the person who will be there for her. Don’t sneak off; instead, use words you’ll repeat every time. “Mommy goes to work, but Mommy always comes back.”
Cope kit: Nightwaking
You can barely remember what a full night’s sleep feels like. Is it time to encourage your baby to sleep longer stretches at night? “I’m a big fan of the bedtime routine,” says McNelles, because it helps a baby associate certain activities with sleep time: bath, story, lullaby, rocking and nursing. If you rock and nurse your baby to sleep, try to put him down before he’s completely zonked out. A slight jostle as he goes into the crib may help him learn to fall asleep on his own.
Is it a slight arousal or real crying? McNelles says sometimes parents actually wake up a baby who might have returned to sleep on his own. If you’re sure he needs you, attend to your baby quickly and be very boring.
9-12 Months: On the move
Your baby is really pushing for mobility now. A few will walk at nine or 10 months, but anytime up to 14 months or so is within the range of normal. The important large motor milestones are sitting, standing and then walking; along the way, babies find very inventive ways to get around. Some crawl, others do the bear walk or skip this stage altogether. She will be eager to practise standing, and pull herself up to cruise by hanging onto furniture.
She’s got a pincer grip now: the ability to grasp a small object with her thumb and index finger. She will begin to use objects as they were intended — drinking with a cup, combing her hair.
By 12 months, babies can produce most of the vowel sounds and about half of the consonants. She may not have a recognizable word yet, but her babbling will have all the inflection and tone of fluent speech. She will understand such requests as “Don’t touch” or “Find the ball” and may use exclamations, such as uh-oh, or her own brand of words to name things. When you read a book together, she will be able to point to the bunny or the dog.
It’s beginning to dawn on your baby that she is a separate person — she can feed herself, express her preferences about food or clothing — perhaps with a no! But she’s still little, and all that striving will sometimes mean disappointment or frustration. When that happens, see things from her point of view. Big feelings can overwhelm her and she needs your help to manage them.
The secure attachment the two of you have built over the past year means your baby can confidently explore her world knowing you are there to help if she’s overwhelmed. You’ll see this as she sets out to crawl across a room, pausing to see that you’re there. She still needs you close by, encouraging her exploration and enthusiasm in what she discovers.
Let your baby do things himself as much as possible.
• Provide a spoon at mealtime. Ask him to find his shoes or turn the page.
• Things to push — a box full of blocks or a little cart — help him balance as he learns to walk.
• Give him toys and household objects that allow him to practise using his hands — stacking cups, blocks, fat crayons, a squishy sponge.
• If your baby has a comfort object — a stuffed animal, a blanket — respect his fondness for it. These “loveys” help little ones cope with stress: falling asleep on their own, saying goodbye, spending time with a sitter.
Cope Kit: Keeping baby safe
A mobile baby means you need to start thinking about babyproofing. The key to keeping him safe is to stay one step ahead of him. If he’s creeping around, get down on the floor and take his view. That floor lamp with its electrical cord to the wall socket may have to go. Are there sharp corners on your coffee table or heavy objects on bookshelves that pose a danger to him?
But keep things balanced: Too many gates or too much time in a playpen may keep him safe, but will stifle his drive to explore. Of course, the best babyproofing tool is you, closely supervising your baby.
OUR EXPERT PANEL
Laurie McNelles is director of academic programs at Toronto’s Mothercraft Institute for Early Development
Dr. Janet Grabowski is a Winnipeg paediatrician and a spokesperson for the Canadian Paediatric Society
Professor Maria Legerstee is a developmental psychologist and director of the Centre for Infancy Research at Toronto’s York University