Child development: 0-3 months

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Coming into the world is a very big and scary adventure for babies. At first they don't know that you are there to comfort them, and feed them, and care for them. They only know when they feel comfortable and safe, or afraid, or hungry, or unsafe.

However, even from birth, your baby will start to communicate with you, and give you little signals when they are tired, or hungry, or awake and alert. They are learning all the time, and the job of parents is to help them to know that the world is a welcoming place for them to be in, where their needs will be met, and they will learn to feel safe and loved. Remember that for a new baby, everything is new and scary at first, even a nappy (diaper) change.

Social and emotional development

  • New-born babies cannot understand what is happening to them.
  • They do not know that they are people.
  • They do not know who helps, when they cry.
  • They feel happy when they feed, but they do not know what 'happy' is.
  • They cry when they are hungry or need to sleep, but they do not know that they are being cared for.

The first and perhaps most important thing to understand about newborn babies, is that they do not have any understanding of being a separate person inside their own skin, and certainly not a person in relationship with other people.

Newborn babies do not cry 'for attention' or to 'get at' their parents

A new baby, in the first three months, is not capable of responding to you with any conscious purpose. They have feelings of pleasure when they feed successfully, or hear your soothing voice. They have feelings of pain when they feel hungry or frightened - but they don't actually know that fear is what they feel, and neither do they understand there is a 'them' to feel it. So if they hear loud or frightening noises for instance, and feel fear, they have no way of knowing that they did not cause the noise themselves. In other words; they think they are their environment, so it matters very much what their environment is like.

Because babies feel but are not yet able to think, they will pick up your feelings and become unhappy themselves if you are unhappy.

This can be inconvenient, because if you feel upset it will be impossible to hide it from your baby – he/she will think it's their feeling and respond as if it was! So, whenever you are tired and frazzled, often your baby will be hard to settle!'

Each baby is different. So they grow and develop in their own way.

"Every baby is different". You have heard this sentiment before, but it is really true, and means that every baby has a different constitution and personality, that may also be very different from your own. They may be easy-going and placid, or they may be shy and worried. They may possess many other natural ways of responding that you will be getting to learn about, and recognise, over the early months.

The human face is the first, and most important, shape that they learn, and the sounds of human voices are very important to them, even though they do not understand them.

Even shy and sleepy babies, will want to take an interest in you - especially your voice and your face. A big section of the human brain is devoted to understanding and remembering faces, and a large part of our social behaviour is based on how we 'read' other people's faces. Looking into someone's eyes is a necessity for 'falling in love' and forming a close and warm relationship. Show your baby your face, and talk to them soothingly right from the start. Don't feel rejected if they turn away; tiny babies often get tired when they interact, and frequently need a rest.

Babies need to feel safe, that someone is looking after them. They often begin to smile at a familiar face, by around 4 to 6 weeks, and will look at you carefully from around the same time.

 

Physical development

Although babies are ready to exist and grow outside of their mother's womb, most parts of their bodies are still immature.

All new babies are very busy with their body. All brand new and never been used before - it takes the first three months to get the digestive system cranked up and running smoothly. You can tell by your baby's face, he/she is preoccupied a lot of the time with whatever is going on inside of them.

Since babies do not understand anything about what is happening around them, they can become distressed if they are given too much to see, or do.

They are being bombarded by what is outside of them, and can easily feel overwhelmed by the stimulation of the diverse sounds, colours, shapes and tactile sensations, in the world outside the womb. Sometimes it's just too much! Loud noises will frighten most babies in their first months, but they are soothed by crooning and the sound of gentle voices, and music, they heard in the womb.

Crying

  • Many babies who are under 3 months old, cry a lot, especially in the late afternoon or evening.
  • This crying, often called colic, seems in part due to being overwhelmed by all that is happening inside their body, as well as outside (their environment). .

Note: "Jiggling" babies is not a good way to help them settle, and can be very scary or even painful for the baby, even if he/she stops crying. It is important to never shake a baby.

Hearing and seeing

  • Newborn babies can see, but they can only clearly see things that are close by.
  • They can hear, and they have been hearing noises from well before they were born.

Newborns have immature eye muscles, and while they can see, particularly at close range, they cannot organise the visual images into meaningful shapes. In the first three months, they are attracted by bright light, primary colours, stripes, dots and patterns.

The human face is the first 'object' they recognise, by understanding that the eyes, nose and mouth form a face. Over the first three months, they begin to recognise particular faces, and other things [like their teddy bear] in their world. Stringing pictures of faces and simple toys above their cot, will give them practice at organising shapes visually.

Using their bodies

New babies move their bodies while they are awake, but they do not yet know how to make each part of their body move, or even that all the "bits" belong to them.

Infants in the first eight weeks have no control over their movements, and all their physical activity is involuntary or reflex. Sucking, grasping, startling and standing, are all reflexes. In their third month, they will begin to watch their hands and feet wave in the air, and also begin to wave their fists towards your face, or some other desired object. They are beginning to get the idea that they have a body that moves, feels, has skin all round it, and that they have some influence over what it does!

They start to work out how to lift their heads when lying on their tummy, and kick their legs, by about 8 weeks.

Speech and language

  • For the newborn, crying is the only means of communication, and different cries mean different things - hunger, pain, wet, cold, fear and loneliness.
  • You will begin to recognise your own baby's different types of crying, and the urgency of their need, in the first few weeks. They have no understanding about time, so all their needs are immediate and urgent.

It is important to respond to your tiny baby as soon as practical, so he/she begins to understand that you will be there for them when he/she calls out for you. This develops the feeling of security, which is very important.

  • By 7 or 8 weeks, babies will begin to discover their voice, and make cooing noises, and vowel sounds.
  • Even by about 8 weeks, they will listen to what you say, and make noises back as they 'talk' to you.

Activities for young babies

  • make a face mobile and hang it, facing them, above their cot
  • stroke different parts of their body, to see how they like to be touched
  • speak to them gently and use their name
  • play them music
  • sing to them
  • hold them a lot
  • let them look at your face as you talk to them
  • copy their little gestures
  • rock them gently
  • feed them a lot and hopefully they will also sleep a lot.

Sleep

  • Most babies will still need to be woken for feeding once, or twice, during the night.
  • Some sleep through the night, but this is unusual.
  • Some babies will resettle when you touch and soothe them, but mostly young babies will need to be fed.

Summary

Social-emotional

  • A baby will watch their parent's face when being talked to. Average 6 weeks, range 4 to 8 weeks.
  • A baby will smile by 5-7 weeks.
  • By 3 months, your baby should be gurgling and laughing aloud.

Signs that suggest that there might be difficulty relating with the baby

  • A parent may feel unable to meet the infants' needs, most of the time.
  • A parent may see the baby in a negative way (as difficult), or is disappointed with the baby.
  • A parent may not feel able to respond to the baby.
  • If a baby does not usually calm, at least momentarily, most of the time when picked up.
  • If a baby has a high pitched cry.
  • If the baby has no social smile, by 8 weeks.

Motor skills, vision and hearing

  • When their cheek is touched, the baby turns to same side to suckle (from birth).
  • The baby lifts their head when prone (on tummy). Average 6 weeks (4 to 8 weeks).
  • The baby will kick legs vigorously, by 2 months.
  • The baby's arms, fingers and legs move spontaneously from flexed, to extended, to flexed positions.
  • The baby will follow a moving light with eyes, for a couple of seconds, by 1 month.
  • The baby will watch a moving face, by 2-3 months.
  • The baby's eyes move in unison, most of the time, by 6 weeks.

Signs that suggest that the baby may have a developmental problem

  • The baby's body is unusually 'floppy' or stiff.
  • The baby's arm and leg on one side are, obviously different in muscle tone, or power, to the other.
  • The baby has unusually 'good' head control (muscles stiff).
  • The baby's fingers are always held in a tight fist.
  • The baby is not watching faces, by 2-3 months.
  • The baby does not startle to noise.
  • The baby is not chuckling and smiling, at 3 months.

Daily activities

  • The baby suckles well.
  • The baby's sleep patterns vary greatly.

Signs that suggest that the baby may have a developmental problem

  • The baby has difficulty with feeding beyond 'normal' range.
  • The baby cries for long periods, and has persistent difficulties with settling.
  • The baby is exceptionally 'good' and placid..

Speech and Language

  • The baby is startled by loud sounds, by 1 month.
  • The baby makes sounds other than crying, by 2 months.
  • The baby begins to listen to voices, and making sounds when talked to, by 7-8 weeks.

Signs that suggest that the baby may have a developmental problem

  • The baby is not watching your face when being spoken to, by 2-3 months

Note: All babies are different, and develop at different rates. So if your baby does not do all the things mentioned in this article, it may be because your baby is working on some different area of their learning and development, at present. However, if your baby is very different from other babies, if you are worried about our baby's development or if your baby's development seems to go backwards, you should seek the advice of a health professional. If there is anything wrong, getting professional advice early will help. Otherwise, it is good to have reassurance that your baby is developing normally, in their own unique way, and to remember; what matters is to support them on moving forward, from where they are now.

The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care.
If you have a particular problem, consult a doctor.

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