Caring for your new little baby for the first time can feel like driving along a dark highway without a GPS. You know your destination – a happy, healthy human being – but you’re not sure whether you’re heading in the right direction. And there’s always the danger that you might take the wrong exit, and end up somewhere completely different. It can be daunting!
There may be no set roadmap for how to care for your baby, but there is a vague roadmap for your baby’s development. It’s your baby’s development that can serve as reassurance that you’re on the right track, and alert you if there are any hazards on the road ahead.
Babies undergo phenomenal growth, learning, and change during their first year. They begin as relatively helpless tiny newborns, and within 12 months, they’ve developed into robust little people who can sit, grab, and maybe say a word or two.
Every baby goes through some typical developmental stages. Babies progress in their own way, and according to their own timeline. But there are some key developmental markers that are worth understanding and celebrating.
0 - 3 months: I’m new here
In their first few months, your baby is adjusting to being out of the womb and in the world. The world is an interesting but often overwhelming place. Babies cry to communicate feeling hungry, tired, uncomfortable and irritated, and every time you respond, they develop a stronger sense of security and safety in their world.
Over the first three months, your child will learn to focus on other people and things, smile and laugh, and kick and fling his legs and arms.
3 - 6 months: Hello world!
By six months, your baby is a lot more social and interested in the outside world. He's starting to come out of his cocoon, interacting and engaging with you, other people, and their environment more.
Over these three months, your baby will learn to grab objects, roll over, and lift his head. He'll also start being more expressive at showing his pleasure and delight; if he likes you bathing him, dressing him or playing certain games, he’ll let you know.
6 - 9 months: Keep me safe
As babies begin to open themselves up and interact more with their world, there comes a time when they become more wary and cautious about what’s going on around them. It’s typical during this stage for babies to cry with strangers, appear anxious with new people or in new situations, and be upset if you’re not around. The world is opening up and that can be scary at times. But your baby is also learning some great new skills, like how to sit up, hold a cup or bottle to drink, and how to crawl around.
9 - 12 months: Time to explore
Although babies may still be anxious around new people and situations during this stage, they are continuing to develop their skills and express their personality. By 12 months, your baby will be much more mobile, either crawling, bum shuffling, standing up, and even walking. And babies will also be more communicative, shaking their heads, saying words, and responding to you when you speak.
In their first year, babies learn physical, social and emotional skills, and they develop more of a sense of self. You can help your baby’s development by being warm, loving, and affectionate, talking to your baby about what you’re doing and what’s happening in their world, and playing, laughing, singing and involving them in your everyday life.
If you love and care for your baby and take note of their developmental story, that dark highway will soon seem like an exciting road trip with plenty of amazing experiences and possibilities ahead.
Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and the founder of Parent Wellbeing. You can find more parenting inspiration at parentwellbeing.com