Guide to Caring for Your Developing Baby

Developing Baby
Caring for a baby takes skill and practice. No one is born knowing how to bathe, dress, feed, and diaper a baby. Most parents learn these skills as they go along.

Don’t worry if you feel awkward and uncertain at first. Before you know it, looking after your baby will seem natural, you will hardly remember that it was something you had to learn.

How Can I Help My Baby Develop?

Babies’ bodies, minds, and feelings all grow at the same time. Even in the first weeks of life, you are teaching your baby about life.

When you respond to your baby’s cries you are teaching her that when she needs something, someone will come and help her.

When you talk and sing to your baby, you are helping him to develop hearing and language skills.
When you smile and make faces at your baby, you’re helping her to control her eye muscles so she can focus and see clearly.

When you blow bubbles on your baby’s tummy, rub and kiss his little hands and feet, stroke his soft head and cheeks, you’re helping him to learn how his body feels and what it can do.

As you play with your baby, love your baby, and look after your baby, you are helping him to develop into a happy, healthy little person.

Your baby’s growth and development – first 12 months

Your baby’s growth and development – first 6 months

Your baby’s growth and development – from 6 months to 12 months

Ways to Promote Baby Development

To guide you in helping your little one develop language and motor skills and reach crucial milestones, here are some ways to promote baby development and nurture your bond with your newborn:

Connect With Your Baby

"Starting as soon as a baby is born, the most important thing you can do to help your baby develop motor skills and language is to engage in human contact," says Kenneth Wible, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Care Center at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. "This includes holding the baby close to you, talking or singing to the baby, and doing other things that stimulate hearing." It's also important to motivate the baby's sight. "When the baby is awake, make sure she can see your face. Research shows that babies prefer objects and designs that resemble the human face," Dr. Wible says. "When the baby reaches 2 to 3 months, smile a lot so she can reciprocate." He adds that babies are born with primitive 20/200 vision, so it's important to hold them close so they can see you clearly.

Excite The Senses

In the second and third months of baby development, infants begin to explore and learn more about their environment. "At this stage, allow your baby to experience different textures," Wible says. "Let her touch a variety of surfaces, and expose her to a variety of sights and smells. Take her hand and rub it on things that are rough, soft, smooth, cold, or warm, and talk about what she's feeling." This kind of detailed exposure will not only teach the baby about her environment but will also help develop her motor skills and language.

Give Ample "Tummy Time"

"Spending time on her tummy is essential to a baby developing a strong body for movement, including head and trunk control," says Amelia Miller, MS, chief infant development specialist at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago. You can help your infant develop motor skills by initiating tummy time at the end of your child's second month. Start by placing your baby on your chest or lap or holding your baby in your arms. You can then move on to putting your baby on a blanket on the floor. Tummy time isn't a baby activity that infants are generally fond of, so when your baby gets fussy, tummy time is over.

Talk To Your Baby

As soon as your baby is born, you can help her start to develop language. "In the first one to two months, imitate your baby's beginning sounds, talk to your baby using "motherese" — soothing, upbeat talking with exaggerated facial expressions — and listen for differentiated sounds and cries that indicate needs," Miller says. When your baby is 4 and 5 months old, you can work on her development of language and communication skills by listening for and imitating beginning babbling, like "ba-ba," "ga-ga," and "da-da." Use your child's name or other cue words, like "Hi, Sweetie," to let her know you're speaking to her directly.

Dr. Spinks-Franklin adds that conversations don't have to be complex to help babies develop language. "In the grocery store, simply explain to your baby what you're doing: 'I am putting the yellow bananas in the bag,'" she says. "Describe what you see, hear, and smell."

Provide a Sense of Security

Starting in the first weeks of baby development, infants need reassurance that their needs will be met — so when your baby cries, respond.

It's particularly important that parents respond to needs reliably to encourage baby's development. "You build attachment and trust by providing predictable routines and consistent caregiving," Miller says. A regular schedule of baby activities, such as feedings and naps, provides a sense of control. "Within this environment, babies develop into secure and independent children," she says.

Enhance Baby Activities With Toys

Around 6 months, when a baby has the motor skills necessary to sit up and grasp or retrieve objects, introduce interactive toys that facilitate baby development. "Toys that roll will stimulate a baby to go after them and encourage her to move," Wible says. "This is also a good time for colorful toys, pop-up toys, and things that surprise."

Play Interactive Games

"At about 9 months, babies develop object permanence — they know that when something isn't present, it can still exist," Spinks-Franklin explains. "Peekaboo is a really fun baby activity at this age because children get a kick out of 'You disappeared … and then you came back!' And when babies cover their eyes at this stage of development, they think their whole body is hiding."

Turn Off The TV

During their first 12 months, babies don't need TV or computers, Spinks-Franklin says. In fact, these screens can hinder baby development. "Babies develop language and other skills best by direct human interaction because they need immediate feedback," she explains. "The feedback they get from TV is artificial." For example, while watching a television program, a child who calls an object by the right or wrong name will not receive appropriate praise or correction from the characters. But when engaging in a baby activity like reading a book with a parent, a baby will hear the parent say, "Yes, that's right!" or "No, that's actually a cow," Spinks-Franklin adds.

Keep Business Words Separate From Baby Activities

Research shows that the number and quality of words babies hear make a huge difference in how well they develop language. In terms of quality of words, "business" words are words parents use to give a child a command, such as "Put on your shoes" or "Brush your teeth," and nonbusiness words are general conversational words, such as "Wow — you put your shoes on the right feet, you have two shoes, and they are blue!"

"Studies have shown that nonbusiness words are best for helping children develop language," Spinks-Franklin explains. "There's a direct connection between the number of nonbusiness words a child hears and his success in kindergarten."

Give Your Baby What She Needs — You!

"Research continuously points to personal interaction between parent and baby as being most crucial to baby development," Wible says. "As your baby develops from a newborn to an infant to a toddler, never stop talking to her, holding her, and giving her that personal time and face-to-face contact. These are the most important baby activities of all."
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