Studies show that a baby’s experiences in the first months of life significantly impact the development of his brain and that a child needs to feel safe, loved and confident about the world around him to reach maximum brain development potential. Here’s how you can be an active part of your baby’s budding perceptions.
Learning trust in month one
During his first month, your newborn will be taught initial lessons about trust. Don’t worry: He doesn’t need to take notes, and there won’t be a quiz. This is a time for mother and baby to get to know each other. Holding, snuggling and gently touching your baby makes him feel secure, as does the sound of your voice, which he was used to hearing in the womb. He knows and prefers your scent to any other smell. When you respond to his cries to be fed, he learns to trust that his needs will be met and will delight in mealtime as a chance to bond with you. He can see a distance of only 8 to 10 inches in front of him, and it’s no coincidence that this is exactly the distance between your faces as you snuggle him in the crook of your arm. Newborns love to see faces, so give him the chance to study the face behind those sounds he heard in utero for the past nine months.
Serving up sunny smiles in month two
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it: This month you’ll watch your baby smile for the first time. And you can keep those smiles coming with songs, tickles and funny faces. Research shows that when you talk, your baby listens, taking in his first language lessons from the intonation and rhythms of your speech. Your baby still can’t see much farther in front of him than he could last month, but he can move his head and eyes together in a coordinated movement called tracking. Play a game with him by holding a toy 8 to 10 inches away from his face, moving it from side to side. Watch as he turns his head to track the object. Baby still loves your snuggles—as well as the tastes and smells that accompany his meals—because they’re unique to his favorite person: you.
Getting tactile with tummy time in month three
By month three, your baby’s development is well under way. His hands will unclench and he will make his first uncoordinated attempts to reach out and touch the world. He can see farther and focus longer. (If only you could derive as much pleasure from the sight of a ceiling fan as he does, those sleepless nights would seem a lot more tolerable.) Now that he has arrived at this stage of maturity, it’s time to pump him up with a little exercise to strengthen his neck, shoulders, chest and back muscles.
Tummy time will help to prepare him for sitting and crawling in later months. Spread a blanket on the floor and place him on his stomach with some toys. Get down at eye level with him, make eye contact, and cheer him on as he raises and lowers his head. He’ll view this full-body, tactile stimulation as a fun new game with his head cheerleader on the sidelines.
Seeing with binocular vision in month four
Guess who can work both eyes together at the same time in combination with his hands? Your baby! Get excited, because this new hand-eye coordination means no more futile swiping at targets only to come away empty-handed. Your baby can now aim and fire those hands with accuracy to reach out and grab a toy—or your glasses.
Mastering the one-handed grab in month five
Tell Fluffy to clear the room—your baby has now figured out the one-handed grab and is ruler of his toy universe. Let the object-into-mouth sensory experience begin. The mouth is the first place those toys are going because there’s nothing like the sensitive nerves of the lips and mouth for exploring taste and texture. Make sure he has safe, clean objects to explore, and prepare those teethers: Things are about to get drooly.
Sitting up in month six
In month six, your little one has achieved the ultimate in baby autonomy thus far. He can sit up by himself thanks to the stimulation that you have been giving him through tummy time and other tactile muscle strengthening exercises. He now has a fresh visual perspective of the world. In addition to sitting up, he also has the ability to push up, pivot, creep and scoot. Enjoy the calm before the storm because he’s about to launch into the next phase of development: mobility. But remember that while baby has soared to new heights of development, he will continue to need the comfort of your touch, smell, voice and sight to maximize his developmental journey.