How a baby learns about their body

How a baby learns about their body

This could be the month of laughs and giggles. Your baby is discovering how she can gain your attention. She is also learning the principles of gravity. You may find yourself repeatedly picking up objects she is dropping. She may also be recognising her name, turning her head towards you when you call her.


DEVELOPMENT:

Coordination
In the first six months, baby needs to learn hand-eye coordination. At first baby will look at something without touching it and touch something without looking at it - what he has to learn is to look at something, decide what he is going to do about it, estimate whether it is within reach and then reach for it. Adults take this for granted, but we had to learn it in order to catch a ball, drive a car and many of the other everyday activities we do as adults.

Baby can manage perfectly well without toys in the first months. His hands are a very important toy and he will take longer to discover them than he will to enjoy the faces around him. At first, baby's hands will pass in front of his face without him having any idea that they belong to him. You may have put a toy in baby's hand and been as surprised as he was when he hit himself on the head with it! He had no idea that he did that to himself which is why he is so startled and why the toys you put into his hands need to be soft.

Sometime between 10 and 12 weeks, baby will realise that those little pink wriggly fingers waving in front of his face are his, and he will amuse himself for varying periods of time waving his hands in front of his face and playing with his own fingers.

The next step is putting his fingers into his mouth. This happens sometime around the age of three months. Now he discovers that he can use his mouth to explore objects - and it becomes very important to him to put everything he can grasp into his mouth to find out more! From now on you need to keep the things that he can reach clean. And you must keep potentially dangerous objects (and that includes anything that will fit inside a film canister) away from his grasp. If baby sucks a dummy it means he can't use his mouth to explore, so if you can remove the dummy during playtime, do so.

The next step for baby is actually taking hold of something that has taken his fancy. Swinging objects such as toys tied to a baby gym or the necklace you are wearing will be particularly attractive to him.

Growth
In the first three months babies gain between 170g and 225g a week. After that, their rate of growth slows to between 140g and 170g a week. The most important thing is that your baby gains rate regularly, not how much she gains. Every baby is different and some will gain more slowly than others - if you are at all concerned about your baby's growth talk to your health clinic nurse.


BEHAVIOUR:

Spoilt baby!

It is not possible to spoil a baby. Babies whose cries are answered and needs met in the first year of life, and who are loved and cared for consistently, grow into more stable and secure children than babies whose needs are ignored and who are left to cry.

A baby who cries when someone who cares for him everyday leaves the scene is not being demanding. He cannot understand that you will come back - even that you have gone into another room - he just knows that he cannot see or hear you anymore. Some babies are more easily upset than others and there are roughly three personality types.

  • The easy baby who sleeps and eats well and takes life as it comes. These babies are easy to ignore and parents sometimes have to remind themselves that baby needs to be played with everyday.
  • The shy baby who withdraws from anything new. Making this baby do anything she is reluctant to do is likely to end in tears.
  • The high-needs baby who requires an enormous amount of patience and time from everyone around her. Go see month 3 for more about high-needs babies.


SLEEP:

Sleeping through the night
If you were used to sleeping for eight or nine hours a night before you became a parent, then you won't want to know that sleeping for a five hour stretch at night is considered to be sleeping through the night! Also, just because a baby sleeps for a long stretch one night does not mean that she will do it again the next night - or the next!

At this age, some babies will sleep for longer at night, a few as long as 12 hours without a break and others for eight or more, but the majority will wake reasonably regularly for feeds. Most will have learnt to sleep more at night than during the day, though they will still need two or three longish sleeps during the day.

Getting baby into a bedtime mood is important at night and you will probably need to use your settling routine (see month 4). You will also need to be flexible and ready to adapt the routine to suit baby - maybe adding in an extra breastfeed because baby is hungrier than usual.


HEALTH:

Is your doctor baby-friendly?
When you have a family you will probably go to the doctor more often than you did before. It is important that you find a child-friendly doctor, one that you like and get along with.

By now your baby should have had at least four health checks either by a doctor or a health nurse. Australian health guidelines recommend that these take place at  birth, in the first month, towards the end of the second month (between six and eight weeks) and between six and eight months.

If you are looking for a new doctor have a list of questions ready, just as you probably did when you were pregnant and needing answers from your obstetrician or clinic doctor. Ask about office hours and the doctor's own hours - many doctors these days work in a group practice where you may not see the same doctor every time you visit. Ask who to call in an emergency. If you are not happy with the atmosphere or the attitude of the doctor or the surgery, then look elsewhere. A good family doctor should be competent, friendly and available.

 

PLAYTIME:

Laughs and giggles
Sometime around the fourth or fifth month your baby is most likely to laugh for the first time. It will usually come out of the blue and surprise everyone. It is a delightful moment and can often be repeated if you can work what she was laughing at.

Often this is easy because baby is laughing at something you have done to surprise her, or you are playing a game - it could be peek-a-boo, dancing or jiggling games, clapping or swinging games.
Laughing makes baby feel good and she is usually quick to realise this.

Find out more:
The Parent Easy Guides from Parenting SA, a government organisation and the fact sheets from the Children, Youth and Women's Health Service are amongst the best and most up to date sources of information for Australian parents. Here you will find PDFs on all these topics and more.

Visit the Essential Baby Forums to meet other parents and share your experiences at each stage.


These guides are written for Essential Baby by child care author, Carol Fallows. Carol established Australian Parents magazine in the early 1980s as Australia's first parenting magazine and managed it for nearly 18 years. She continues to write about and for parents. Her most recent title is Having a Baby. The essential Australian guide to pregnancy and birth. (Transworld/Random House, 2005).

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This information is not a substitute for professional advice. If you have any concerns about your child's health or wellbeing it is important that you seek help from your doctor or a health professional.

Unless otherwise indicated the pronoun he or she refers to either sex. We have chosen to alternate.