As soon as a woman discovers that she's pregnant, it begins. Suddenly she's always waiting for the next sign, the next step, the next milestone. In some ways she should try to avoid the “when is X going to happen?” treadmill because it leaves her always waiting for something else and as soon as that something happens, boom, she is on to the next lot of anticipation without enjoying the thing for which she was just waiting.
Having said that, some things are worth waiting and looking out for, such as your baby's developmental milestones. These steps, which children without any kind of issue will achieve at around the same time, are a useful indicator for you and your family's medical professionals that your baby is progressing as expected.
The developmental milestones below are those which most children will hit by the age of three months. Some babies may achieve them early, usually leading to parents becoming overly excited and declaring their child a genius who is much smarter than any other baby ever.
I know, I speak from experience. Other babies reach these milestones a little past the expected age, leading parents to fret and panic and become convinced there is something dreadfully wrong, which usually there isn’t. I also write this from experience.
So why do we monitor these milestones? We set and track them because they are the easiest way to gauge whether or not a child is developing along the expected timetable. They also provide a system of guidance for parents that allows us to identify any potential problems our child might be having and to obtain help for them as soon as possible. Guess what? I say this from experience too.
15 Watch Your Face
When your newborn comes into the world, her primary focus will be about eight to ten inches away. Not coincidentally, this is the approximate distance from her eyes to your face when you are feeding. Your baby will enjoy looking at highly contrasting images and will stare at intently at your face. To begin with, she will only be able to look at one part of your face at a time, but by three months she will see your face as a whole.
Stimulate this skill by making exaggerated facial expressions for your child to look at. Your baby will also enjoy looking into an unbreakable mirror if you can hang one in her crib or by the changing table. A mirror will also encourage the development of the “social smile.”
14 Bring On The Social Smiles
Most people are unaware that babies often begin smiling in the womb. This is not, however, in response to a hilarious uterus but just the kind of reflex that also causes them to twitch their arms and their legs. Once out in the big wide world, their reflex smiles will continue until around two months at which stage your baby will begin to develop what we call a “social smile.”
It is easy to tell the difference between the reflex and the social smile. When your baby is giving a reflex smile, he will do so randomly and not in response to any outside stimulation. When you get the social smile, you’ll know it. The smile is not just on your baby's lips, but it is in his eyes as well.
13 I Smile Because I Hear You
Another stage of “smile development” is when your baby smiles at the sound of your voice or other familiar sounds such as the laugh of a sibling. Once she has grasped the social smile skill, your baby will be keen to try it out as much as possible.
Encourage smiling with “smile conversations”. Some babies are a little overwhelmed by too much eye contact or talk but respond enthusiastically when you smile for a few moments, stop and wait for them to smile back. Going back and forth in this way encourages the social smile, and then your baby will soon start to smile spontaneously at sounds she associates with smiles.
You can also talk to her in dramatically high-pitched baby talk. Speaking slowly and exaggeratedly will engage your little girl and give her a more singular voice to associate with you and smiling.
12 Movin’ On Up
One of the things you will hear a lot about is the importance of tummy time for your baby. This is not just about giving your little fella the opportunity to stretch out and have a little wiggle, although that is important. Tummy time is all about giving your baby the opportunity to start working all of the muscles he will need to raise his head, push up onto his hands and begin the hard work of starting to crawl.
The milestone of raising the head and chest when lying on his stomach is usually reached at around eight weeks, although some super co-ordinated babies manage it at six weeks and others need a little longer to build up the strength.
To encourage your little one and help build strength and control you can play this game with him after about six weeks of age. With your baby laying on his back, hold his hands and slowly bring him up to a sitting position, then slowly let him back down again.
11 Push Up Time
The next physical developmental step after lifting up the head is your baby pushing up, until she has straight arms and she is supporting her upper body when she is laying on her stomach. This will be achieved in steps. First, it will be that wobbly head-up, then she will start to push on her hands, finally working some distance between her torso and the floor by three months. At this stage, it may only be a small push off, but the more tummy time your baby gets, the stronger and more coordinated she will become.
An excellent way of encouraging the “push-up” is to lay back and put your baby, tummy down on your stomach. Making sure to keep your hands at her sides so she cannot roll off, and chat and coo to her. This will give her the best incentive to push-up - seeing your face.
10 Whoa, What Are Those?
Another advantage to laying on a flat, safe surface is that it enables your baby to stretch out and begin to learn about his arms and legs. This might seem like an odd thing to say, but we do in fact have to determine that sensation X is connected to feeling Y and that when I do A, B moves.
During these first three months, your little one will work out that those feelings are associated with particular movements. To encourage this cognitive leap you can do things like play “three little piggies” with his toes or stroke and play with his fingers. You could even attach toys that make sounds to his wrists or ankles so that he discovers that when he kicks his legs, there is an exciting sound.
9 Step, Two, Three
Your newborn comes complete with a number of reflexes preloaded, one of which is the stepping reflex. Hold a new baby up and let their feet touch the ground and they will make a stepping motion, just like they are trying to walk. Unfortunately, you do not have a super advanced human on your hands, we all do this, and by the age of three months, this reflex should be long gone.
What it is replaced with though is exciting knowledge (for your babies) that they can touch the floor with their feet and push down. Encourage this by holding your baby firmly around the waist and following her around the room as she “walks.” Apart from the critical element of balance, which will take a good few months to master yet, she will be perfectly able to “walk” and will enjoy the new perspective on the world.
8 Brings Hands To Mouth
Meanwhile, at the other end of his body, things have been getting just as exciting in the hand department. Your baby will probably have started to bring his hands up to his face and may even have tried to get his fingers in his mouth.
Don’t worry about your baby slapping himself in the face hard enough to hurt himself, he doesn't have that kind of muscle strength yet, but do keep a watch out for the occasional finger poke in the eye. Some babies, like my oldest son, do this quite a few times before they make the cause and effect connection.
If your baby becomes a finger or a thumb-sucker, don’t worry. This will help him learn to self-soothe which is an important skill that will lay down the foundation for self-soothing skills when he is older.
7 Ohh Fingers
While your baby is busy slapping herself in the face, she will be catching a glimpse of something odd and discovering some funny looking flesh colored sausages wiggling around. At this stage, she will not understand that they belong to her and will become fascinated when she catches sight of them.
One she makes the startling discovery that they are hers and that she has some control over them, she will begin to watch in wonder as she opens and closes her fingers. Encourage this grip by placing an easy-to-hold toy in the palm of her hand and keeping it there until she grasps it. Then gently bring the toy in front of her face, so that she makes all of the connections between her hands, gripping and movement. You can also play hand games, tickle her palms and wiggle her fingers to help stimulate this skill.
Finally, after all of this hard work, learning to focus your eyes and track objects, gaining control over muscles, and making the leap from seeing a body part to understanding that it is yours and you can control it, your baby will finally get to the point of developing hand-eye coordination.
Your little one will begin to reach out for items that are held in front of him, or that he can see when he is laying out flat. Help him build this skill by keeping a small toy in front of him and moving it slowly back and forth in his field of vision. Lift up his hand and help him touch the toy. Your baby’ first few attempts may be way off the mark, which is normal, but with a little practice, he will start to hit his target.
5 What Was That?
While all of this exciting physical development is going on, there are plenty of other fantastic foundation skills that your baby is learning in the first three months. One of these is being able to turn her head towards a sound.
This is an essential milestone in more ways than it first appears. The obvious element is that if she is turning her head, then she can hear and her ears are working. This is, of course, fabulous but by turning her head towards sounds, she is also demonstrating muscle control and the mental connections along the lines of “I heard a sound. From what direction did it come? I will turn my head to see what it was because I am interested.”
So more than just hearing, by turning her head to the sound, your baby is showing you that she is interested in and keen to interact with the world around her.
4 What’s That Expression?
Before you have a baby of your own, they all seem to have two primary facial expressions, relaxed and asleep or screwed up and screaming, but as soon as you become a parent yourself, you will discover that your baby quickly develops a myriad of looks and will even communicate with their body.
This is an important language skill - remember, language not speech. Speech just involves the spoken word, but language is all of the ways we communicate, including with our faces and our body language.
Long before your baby can even begin to speak, he will develop body language that helps him convey his wants and needs to you. As you both grow together, he will understand your unspoken cues just as you learn to read his.
3 Yes, Copy That
This unspoken language is partially instinctive and partially learned. Your baby will be watching you from the very moment her eyes can first focus on yours, and she will associate the facial expressions you make with the emotions she feels when you make them. So if she is feeling fussy and you smile at her and make baby-talk, she will feel good. Then she will copy that face you make and be rewarded with a smile in return. This circular facial conversation forms the basis of communication.
Toward the end of three months, your little one will have become far more sophisticated and will begin to copy you when you clap hands and wave. You can encourage her by singing nursery rhymes that have hand gestures connected to them. This way she will have a number of cues to help her mirror your movements.
2 Sound Effects
Towards the end of the three month period, you can begin to cut back on the high pitched baby-talk as your little one will have tuned into your voice and the voices of those around him. Your baby will learn much more about adult speech if you now concentrate on regular cadence and inflection.
This doesn’t mean an end to silliness and fun, though. Your baby will be starting to make sounds other than a straight-up cry or dissatisfied grizzle, and there are lots of ways to encourage him. Read him lots of board books, especially those that have simple words that rhyme. This repetition of sound will make it easier for him to learn to vocalize himself.
Don't be afraid to just play with sounds either. When he starts to make a sound, repeat it back to him to demonstrate you've heard and “understood” him. You baby will love these sound conversations.
1 Be Careful What You Wish For
As soon as your little one makes her first “eh” or “oh” sound, you will no doubt become desperate to hear her first words. However, you will have to wait a while longer. Once this three-month mark arrives, you should be hearing sounds and shortly afterward, at around six or seven months, you will start to hear “ma-ma” or “da-da.” Don’t get too excited because at first, these will just be sounds mixed together.
This first word with real meaning will appear anywhere, on average, between nine and fourteen months. However, language has one of the most flexible milestone timelines, and it is not unusual for a child to say nothing until they are eighteen months old. If this is the case, do not panic. One of my own sons was almost twenty months old before he spoke, and now he never shuts up.
Sources: bounty.com, mayoclinic.org, emedicinehealth.com, whattoexpect.com, webmd.com, childrenshearing.ca, kidshealth.org, theweek.com, care.com, livescience.com, raisingchildren.net.au