Help Your Baby Grow!

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult having a baby is exciting and scary all at the same time. There is a whole new little life that depends on you. That’s a big change. Just as big as the changes your precious bundle of joy will be experiencing the first three months of his/her life. Months 1 through 3 of a baby’s life are considered the postnatal period. It’s during this period that they begin developing physically, psychosocially, and cognitively as they learn more about their environment. This “Help Your Baby Grow!” program will discuss typical prenatal development for babies born at full term. Premature babies will reach their developmental milestones later on. Additionally, this program will cover some of the best practices for parents of newborns, and answer some commonly asked questions about having and caring for a newborn.

Overview of Development

Month 1

The first month of an infant’s life is spent adjusting to a whole new world of sights, sounds, smells, and figuring out how to use their arms and legs. Around a month old you might notice that your baby can keep his/her hands in a tight fist, briefly hold up his/her head when lying on the tummy (also known as “Tummy Time”), and his/her arms and legs move equally on both sides (Gavin, 2016). Psychosocial skills are commonly referred to as Social/Emotional skills. Around a month old your baby should be able to recognize the mother’s voice, become alert upon hearing delightful sounds like music, and positively respond to a parent’s voice, touch, and affection when upset (Gavin, 2016). Cognitive development happens as babies adapt and learn. By a month old babies can typically follow faces, as well as stare at objects put directly in their line of sight. Bright colored objects are more likely to be noticed (Gavin, 2016). The most fun changes for parents is that baby can now begin making noises other than crying. Play noises, happy noises, those cute little high pitched squeals that everyone seems to love.

Month 2

More changes to come during the second month of life. Physically, your baby should be able to move arms and legs in a more stable manner, as well as hold his/her head up and begin to push up with arms when lying on tummy (Center for Disease Control, 2017). Cognitive advancements should include the ability to pay attention to faces, start to act fussy when bored with the current activity, begin following objects with their eyes, and recognize familiar faces from a distance. These new cognitive skills aid in baby’s new social/emotional skills. Around a month old baby will begin smiling at people, attempt to look at/for the parent when out of sight, and briefly self-soothe by sucking on his/her hand (Center for Disease Control, 2017). Additionally, new sounds can be made. Around the 2-month mark babies typically make cooing noises and gurgling sounds.

Month 3

Month 3 signifies the end of the prenatal period. Your baby has already made lots of changes, but more are still to come. By 3 months of age most babies can open and close hands, swipe at dangling objects, grab and shake hand toys, and stretch out his/her legs and kick when laying down (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009). Along with new physical skills, your baby has expanded his/her cognition more. Around 3 months of age babies can typically intently watch faces, babble to talk with everyone else, begin to imitate sounds, turn head towards sound, smiles at the sound of parent’s voice, and start using eye/hand coordination (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009). An infant’s social/emotional skills should be in full swing around the end of the prenatal period. Baby should be spontaneously smiling at people, expressing him/herself with face and body movements, and enjoy playing with other growing upset when the playing ceases (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009).

How Does Environment Impact My Baby’s Development?

Research has thoroughly established that a child’s environment impacts their development throughout life. An infant’s environment includes the home, daycare, or anywhere that an infant spends a majority of their time. The home environment should be clean with ample space to move around, and have toys or areas that are stimulating for physical, cognitive, and social/emotional development. Another important aspect of the home environment is emotional availability. “[Home] is a primary agent for learning and developing the foundation for positive lifelong behaviors, especially during the early years” (Miquelote & Santos & Cacola & Montebelo & Maria & Gabbard, 2012, pp. 330).

The physical environment of the home impacts an infant’s physical/motor development, cognitive development, and can even impact their social/emotional development. Rijlaarsdam and Tiemeier and Hofman and Jaddoe and Mackenback and Verhulst and Stevens (2012) briefly discussed how poor hygiene habits in the home have been linked to poor social/emotional development. The more chances a baby has to move and work their muscles, the more likely the baby is to begin moving around and exploring their environment. Miquelote et al. (2012) reported a strong association between early gross motor skills and a child’s processing speed and working memory later during school age years.

Emotional availability is a very important part of the home environment. A plethora of research shows that how well a mother, or the primary caregiver, responds to an infant’s cries indicates how well the child will be able to develop in life. Jennifer Marshall wrote an article about neurosensory development and discussed the importance of emotional availability. “All development is grounded in emotions such as attachment, trust, and comfort. … Many characteristics are socially learned— competence, self-worth, meaning, value, empathy— beginning in the early months of life” (2011, pp. 178). Authors Dicarlo and Onwujuba and Baumgartner (2014) discussed how the interactions between mother and child set the foundation for the child’s social/emotional, and cognitive development. How a mother responds to the child’s cries (quickly, slowly, negatively, or positively) teach the child how to self-soothe and manage stress. When they respond appropriately effectively encourage their child’s social/emotional development. Sensitive and engaging interactions between mother and baby help support self-soothing and problem-solving skills.

New research has found the impact of a father’s involvement on his child’s development. Authors Singer and Cole and Hammer and Molly and Rowell and Isacco (2017) discussed the impact of paternal involvement in a baby’s life in their article Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Paternal Involvement With Infants Scale. They wrote that fathers play a strong role in their child’s cognitive and social/emotional development in the first year of life. Infants with dads who are involved, interactive, and nurturing have more mature language skills, better cognitive ability, have a higher IQ, and better emotion regulation skills during childhood. Additionally, infant’s with involved father’s have shown to have greater empathy, less gender-stereotyped beliefs, and greater overall quality of life (Rempel & Rempel & Khuc & Vui, 2017).

Authors Bernier and Tétreault and Bélanger and Carrier (2017) studied and reported how paternal involvement affects a child’s sleep patterns. Their study revealed that emotional support and involvement from the father were associated with longer sleep duration and better sleep efficiency. Paternal involvement at 1 and 3 months of age predicted more consolidated infant sleep at 6 months of age. Likewise, paternal involvement at 2 years old is predictive of better sleeping patterns at 3 years of age.

It’s clear that a child’s development depends on many factors. The most important factors are the home environment, emotional availability of both parents, and access to developmentally stimulating play materials. There are many ways in which parents can help aid their baby’s development. This will be discussed in greater detail in the following sections.