Your baby's development: 3-6 months

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Most parents find it very enjoyable, when their baby reaches the ages between 3 and 6 months old. Your baby would have come a long way in the first 3 months, and many of the internal "settling down" processes that newborns have, will have been overcome. Three month old baby's, are usually very social beings, who delight in being with you. As well, parents have usually learned enough of their baby's ways and messages, to get their responses right for most of the time.

Social and emotional development

  • By 3 or 4 months old, your baby is beginning to get a bit of an idea about being in the world, and you are getting to know each other.
  • He/She will be making eye contact with you, and you will be smiling at each other. He/She will be able to 'read' some of your expressions, and will look worried if you look cross or worried.
  • He/She would have learnt that you are the person [or one of the people], who comes a lot of the time to meet their needs, but will not yet fully understand, that you are a separate person.
  • He/She still has the idea that the whole of life is happening inside of themself, and that they are making all of it happen. The idea that you are completely separate from him/her, and can take yourself away from them, will not come until he/she is seven months or older.

When you understand what your baby wants and try to meet their needs, they will feel that the world is safe and predictable, and good things come from inside of them as well as from you. Your baby will be getting the idea that relationships are rewarding, and also that they are valuable. This is an important basis for your baby's relationship with you and other people, as well as their own self esteem.

  • At this stage your baby is often happy to smile and engage with strangers, because they are getting so much pleasure from smiling and engaging with you.
  • You and your baby will be having 'conversations' with each other. They will be getting excited at the feeling of you responding to her and kick her legs and wave her arms.
  • Your baby will still easily become over stimulated, so take care - when your baby has too much excitement, he/she will start to cry, and need to be calmed down.

At 4 months your baby:

  • smiles lots
  • laughs out loud and squeals with delight
  • shows he/she enjoys life, by laughing and kicking their legs
  • likes people
  • is interested in their surroundings and activities going on around them
  • clearly shows enjoyment at being bathed, talked to etc.

Physical development and motor skills

  • Your baby is starting to get some control over their body - even starting to realise that it is actually their own body.
  • laughs out loud and squeals with delight
  • He/she will spend time looking carefully at their hands and touching and looking at their feet. They will be getting used to what things feel from the outside as well as the inside, and understanding it's all attached.
  • He/she will grasp at objects in front of them now, and you will need to put stronger mobiles above the cot and pram/stroller.
  • Their bodies might be difficult for them to control, but they can do interesting things when they can!

It is good for him/her to spend time on their tummy on the floor, kicking legs and waving arms as if about to swim off at any moment. This strengthens their back and helps work up to crawling. He/she will get frustrated after a while, with not being able to hold their head up for a long time or move forward - but give him/her as long as he/she can tolerate.

Note: do not leave a baby on his/her tummy when sleeping. Sleeping on the tummy increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Put interesting things on the floor near him/her, and stimulate their desire to move towards them when he/she is ready. He/She will take everything to their mouth - that's their way of exploring the shape and texture of objects. Rattles, plastic spoons and tea strainers - anything smooth, graspable, too large to swallow and preferably coloured, will be a good object for him/her to discover the nature of matter.

Your baby:

  • Will roll over from front to back, at about 4-6 months
  • Will be able to lift head and chest when on their tummy, by 4 months
  • when on his/her tummy, will lift and wave their arms and legs about
  • will begin to discover his/her hands belong to him/her, and play with their fingers, about 3-4 months
  • will grab and play with their toes when lying on back, about 4-5 months
  • will be able to hold objects for brief periods, at 3-4 months
  • will bring toys and objects up to mouth, if put in their hands
  • will swipe at dangling objects, 3-4 months, but usually miss
  • will topple over, if put in to sitting position
  • will grab for a toy, such as a block or rattle, at around 5 months
  • will be able to support their own weight when standing on their feet [this does not mean he/she is ready to walk]
  • when being held, will grab at hair, spectacles, and other objects like badges or chains.
  • sits up while being held by hands

Speech and language

Your baby will now be making a whole range of sounds. Indeed there will be some sounds that you are not able to make yourself, and may sound like a foreign language! This is because he/she is born with the potential to speak any language, and we cultivate and discard particular sounds, according to the language we speak. Your baby will be very interested in how your mouth works, and how the sound comes out.

  • Show your baby your tongue, and practice simple sounds together - "maa, daa" are good ones to begin with.
  • When your baby makes a sound, repeat it back so he/she knows what sound he/she has made.
  • Repeat single words to your baby - especially their name - and associate the words with an event or object.

These conversations are extremely important, not just because you are teaching your baby to talk, but also because he/she is getting the feeling of a 'him' and a 'you', and a joining in the middle through language. This is a new and complicated concept, and is the basis for all relationships throughout life.

Babies can start to be interested in books from a very early age.

Your baby:

  • Will coo and gurgle with pleasure
  • Will begin babbling and then listening, at around 3-4 months
  • Will 'talk' to toys, at around 5-6 months
  • Will turn their head to sound

Activities for a 3-6 month old child

  • Talk to your baby all the time, saying what you are doing and what different noises are.
  • Make faces and blow "raspberries" on your baby's belly.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Place your baby on the floor in a safe place, on his/her tummy, for short periods to play.
  • Place your baby on the floor without a nappy, to allow the freedom to kick unrestricted.
  • Provide your baby with bright objects to look at, and place some within reaching distance, so they can be touched.
  • Provide your baby with a variety of things to do, and either change what he/she is looking at, or move him/her to a different spot so there is something else to look at.
  • Place colourful toys nearby for your baby to touch/try to touch, look at and hit.

Alert!

These are very important months. Don't hesitate to get help from your doctor or community health nurse if:

  • your baby is unhappy or unsettled, much of the time
  • you are unhappy or anxious, much of the time
  • your baby is not turning to look for you, when you speak
  • your baby is not smiling and cooing, even some of the time
  • your baby is not kicking his/her legs
  • you feel that you and your baby just aren't getting on together, as well as you would like.

Safety

Your baby can now grasp some small objects and put them in his/her mouth, which means that he/she may swallow them, or they may cause him/her to choke.

Babies often roll over by the time they are 4 or 5 months old, and can get into danger quickly. Make sure that he/she is not left alone unless in a safe place.

Summary

Social-emotional

  • Your baby laughs aloud, by about 3 months, (range 2-4 months)
  • Your baby enjoys being played with (laughs, kicks), by 4 months

Signs that suggest that a baby may have a developmental problem

  • Your baby shows no obvious pleasure in interacting with people
  • Your baby is not making eye contact with people

Motor skills, vision and hearing

  • Your baby will roll over around 5 months (range 4 to 6 months)
  • Your baby will lift head and chest when prone, by 4 months
  • Your baby looks at hands and plays with own fingers, about 3 months
  • Your baby can grasp an object, by 3-4 months
  • Your baby starts being able to chew, 5-6 months
  • Your baby watches activities of those around
  • Your baby makes eye contact
  • Your baby likes looking at people and bright objects

Signs that suggest that a baby may have a developmental problem

  • muscle tone and power unusually low or high
  • fingers not extending spontaneously
  • arms and legs held flexed most of the time
  • not following activities with eyes.

Daily activities

  • your baby has, more or less, a daily routine
  • your baby begins to react to familiar situations by smiling, cooing and excited movements
  • parents are able to say whether the baby 'enjoys' things, like baths, being undressed
  • your baby recognises their bottle, and makes movements showing pleasure

Signs that suggest that a baby may have a developmental problem

  • parents persistently unable to settle baby
  • lack of adequate weight gain in baby

Thinking and understanding

  • your baby does not seem to recognise mother or others
  • your baby shows a lack of interest in surroundings

Signs that suggest that a baby may have a developmental problem

  • parents persistently unable to settle baby
  • lack of adequate weight gain in baby

Speech and language

  • Your baby turns their head to a talking person, by 5 months
  • Your baby searches for a sound (turns head), by 4 months
  • Your baby makes lots of little vocalisations
  • Your baby takes turns when 'talking' with parents

Signs that suggest that a baby may have a developmental problem

  • Your baby is not startling to loud noises
  • Your baby is not seeking sounds with eyes
  • Your baby has no vocalisations.

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 his/her learning and development at present.

However, if your baby is very different from other babies, if you are worried about your 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 your baby 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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