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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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From Baby to Big Kid:  Month 1

Welcome home to you and Baby! Browse the information and links below to see what your little one is experiencing and learning during his or her first month.

What to Expect From Your Baby's Development

As you review the chart, keep in mind that development is not a race and that every child grows at her own pace and in her own way. Your child may develop skills faster or slower than indicated below and still be on track. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your child's health care provider or other trusted professional.

Development From Birth to 3 Months

What Your Baby Can Do

What You Can Do to Connect With Your Baby

I am getting to know you and the other people who love and care for me.

  • I recognize your faces, voices, and smells almost from birth.
  • Talk to your baby about what you are doing together. You're looking at the light. Yes, it's interesting and bright. This makes him feel loved, and helps him bond with you.
  • Hold your baby. Try different positions to see which he likes best and which soothes him.
  • Try some skin-to-skin cuddle time with your little one. This makes him feel loved and comforted.

I am learning how to "tell" you what my needs and wants are.

  • I can use my sounds, facial expressions, and body movements to tell you how I'm feeling—sleepy, hungry, happy, or uncomfortable.
  • I show you when I want to interact and play, and when I need a break.
  • Watch your baby to learn her signals. Does she have a "hunger" cry? Does she rub her eyes or look away from you when she is tired? Does she grimace when she has a bowel movement?
  • Respond to your baby's signals. When her eyes are bright and she is awake and alert, it is time to play. Slow things down when she cries, turns away, or arches her back.

I am learning a lot by listening.

  • I recognize the sound of your voice and love to hear you talk.
  • Talking with me, even though I don't yet understand what the words mean, will help me learn to talk as I grow.
  • Help your baby begin to learn language by responding in words to his facial expressions, sounds, and gestures. When he nuzzles into your chest, you might say, Oh, you are hungry now. Let's get you some milk.
  • When your baby makes eye contact with you, smile and talk with him: You are looking at my earrings. You see that they move when I move!
  • Tell your baby what is happening around him: Now Mommy is folding the laundry. This is your t-shirt. Later, we will put it in your drawer.
  • Talk to your baby about what is happening to him: I'm changing your diaper. Yes, you feel a little chilly right now. Don't worry, I'm almost done.

I am beginning to use my body to make things happen.

  • When I am hungry, I might move my head so that my mouth is close to my mother's breast.
  • It's good for me to be in different positions. I begin to develop muscle strength when I spend time on both my back and my belly.
  • Watch to see how your baby is "discovering" her body. Does she look at her hands, suck on her feet, or kick and roll?
  • Let your baby experience different positions throughout the day—on her belly, back, and sitting up. This helps her develop strength and muscle coordination. (But remember, your baby should always sleep on her back to keep her safe.)

I am interested in the world around me!

  • I am eager to learn how the world works.
  • I start by looking and listening. I gaze at people and things that interest me: Your face, brightly colored objects, or objects with contrasting colors. I will follow an object with my eyes if you move it slowly in front of me.
  • By 3 months I will be able to reach out and explore things with my hands.
  • Create an interesting environment for your baby. Give him safe toys and objects to explore such as your finger or a toy. Let him touch objects with different textures and shapes. Hold a toy within your child's reach so he can swat it with his hands or feet.
  • Let your baby gaze at a toy, object, or picture for as long as he wants. When he looks away, you know he is done.

I grow to love books when you start reading to me early.

  • I enjoy looking at bright pictures, hearing your voice, and cuddling in your arms while we read.
  • Choose "chunky" board books or cloth or soft vinyl books (that can easily be washed).
  • Look for stories with simple, large pictures of people or familiar objects.

We are becoming closer and closer everyday.

  • I am learning to depend on you for comfort and support.
  • When you comfort me, you are helping me learn to comfort myself.
  • Comfort your baby when she cries. You can't spoil a baby. Soothing makes her feel safe, secure, and loved.
  • Help your baby calm herself by guiding her fingers to her mouth or giving her a pacifier.
  • Find ways to stay calm yourself, as tough as that may be at times. You teach your child self-control by staying calm when she is upset. This helps her feel safe and lets her know that you'll always be there to support her—even during the tough times.

Right from the beginning, you are teaching me who I am by how you care for me.

  • Your love helps me grow up to be confident in myself and my abilities.
  • Nurture your baby's sense of self-confidence by comforting him, responding to his cries and needs, talking and playing with him. Caring for him in these ways lets him know that he is loved and important to you. This is the foundation of positive self-esteem and self-confidence.

What It's Like for You

This is an exciting and emotional time for everyone. In the last month, your life has probably undergone a huge shift as you went from eating whenever you liked and sleeping-in to your life as parents--eating whenever the baby lets you put him down and rarely sleeping (or at least it feels like that some days). Now you spend your days in "training" as you become an expert at everything from feeding to burping to diapering.

This is also a period during which you might be dealing with some very strong and sometimes conflicting feelings--an intense, overwhelming sense of love may alternate with fear or anxiety at caring for this tiny, fragile person. It's not uncommon to also experience feelings of anger, says Elena, mother of three-week-old, Caden:

I thought being a mom was going to be so amazing and fulfilling. And it is; we love Caden so much. But the other day, after being up with him every hour the night before, he cried all morning. I feel horrible admitting this, but I felt really angry. I was just so incredibly frustrated with him. It seemed I could do nothing to make him happy. And I was so tired. That was a bad day—a real low point for me. Luckily, there are other moments, like when he nuzzles into me and I feel so connected to him. So, I guess if I'm being honest, I'd say it's complicated—hard at times, but also incredibly joyful.

It's very normal to feel impatient or frustrated at times when parenting a new baby. Feelings of anger or resentment are to be expected. You are adjusting to a huge change in your life. It takes time and practice to learn to cope with these strong feelings in a healthy way so they don't affect caring for your baby, or yourself.

It's also important to keep in mind that some new moms experience hormonal changes that can lead to the "baby blues." However, if your feelings of sadness are intense and are interfering with taking care of your baby or yourself, it's important to talk to your doctor, other trusted professional, friend, or family member to get support.

All of these emotions—and more—are to be expected in the first month home. Throw in some sleep deprivation and you see why it's so important for new parents to be kind and forgiving with themselves and each other.

What It's Like for Baby

Sometimes when I cry, it has nothing at all to do with being hungry. I may cry when I am tired or wet, or because I'm overwhelmed by everything going on around me and I need a break. Adjusting to the world outside mom's cozy body takes a lot of energy!

When I cry and you come as fast as you can, you make me feel so much better. Don't worry about spoiling me. Comforting me when I cry now means that I will cry less when I am bigger because I will know that I can trust you to care for me.

It's okay if I don't stop crying right away. When you try different things to comfort me, you let me know you care and that I'm important. (And sometimes nothing might work. I may just need to cry a while to let off steam.) As you get to know me, you'll learn to understand my different cries and what I need. If my crying really gets hard to listen to—and it might—it's okay to put me down in a safe place, like my crib, for a few minutes. It's also okay to have someone else help out for a while. We're both adjusting to big changes in our lives.

What Your Baby Is Learning

Social-Emotional Development:

  • That she is important and loved.
  • That she can rely on you to comfort her and help her calm when she is overwhelmed. Over the long-run, this gives her the confidence to trust others, which will help her form healthy relationships as she grows.
  • How to soothe herself. While your baby is not yet able to calm herself, cuddling her now helps her learn about comforting. Later, she may cuddle up with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to soothe herself when she's upset.

Language Development:

  • That behavior has meaning, when mom responds to her cues. While newborns are not communicating in an intentional way (they cannot yet form a thought, like I'm hungry, and then use cries to communicate this), their behavior does have meaning. When they are hungry, their reflex is to cry. When they have gas, they may kick their legs out straight or arch their back. Often their behavior gets them just what they need--attention, food, or a pat on the back to bring up that burp.

Did You Know...

Babies recognize familiar voices and smells from their earliest days of life? One study found that babies as young as 1 month would begin to calm—even before being picked up—just at the sight or sound of their trusted caregiver.

Reference: Lamb, M. E., & Malk, C. M. (1986). Scent: The tie that binds. Psychology Today.

What the Research Means for You
Yes, you are the most special person to your baby from the start. By responding to your baby's cries, working to understand her needs, and being a nurturing presence in her life, you are building a strong bond between the two of you. Your child's connection with you becomes her lifelong model for healthy, loving relationships. Also, by providing comfort to your baby with your words and presence, you help her learn how to soothe herself, which is a key part of developing self-control later on.

Spotlight on: Crying and Colic

Crying, hard as it is to hear, is a normal way babies communicate hunger, discomfort, distress, or a need for your attention. Most newborns reach a crying peak at about 6 weeks. Then their crying starts to decrease. By 3 months, they usually only cry for about an hour a day.

And then there's colic. While all babies cry, some babies cry much more than others. This is known as colic and it's defined as:

  • Crying that begins and ends for no obvious reason
  • Lasts at least 3 hours a day
  • Happens at least 3 days a week
  • Continues for 3 weeks to 3 months

Being with a crying baby who is hard to soothe can be exhausting, stressful, and frustrating. But keep in mind that just by being there—holding and comforting him—you are teaching him that he is not alone and that you will stick by him through thick and thin.

What You Can Do About Colic:

  • Talk with your health care provider. Crying may have a medical cause—a food sensitivity, heartburn, or other physical difficulty.
  • Try holding your baby more. Some babies cry less when they are held more. Wrap your baby snugly in a blanket—called "swaddling"—and rock her gently.
  • Use soothing sounds. Talk or sing softly to your baby. Try running a fan or humidifier in your baby's room.  Sometimes babies are soothed by this background noise.
  • Reduce stimulation—lights, sights, sounds, and textures. Sometimes less stimulation leads to less crying for babies with colic.
  • Remember there is no quick fix. Cereal in the bottle? Rubbing something on baby's gums? There is no research that shows that these home remedies work. And they can sometimes be harmful to babies. There is no "magic wand" to stop crying.
  • Soothe yourself. You deserve it. Caring for a crying baby can be very stressful. But when you take the time to calm yourself, it helps your baby calm down too. If you find yourself feeling really frustrated, put your baby in a safe place—like a crib—and take a short break. Crying won't hurt your baby, and taking a break will give you the time you need (and deserve) to take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  • Remember, the crying will end. Usually the worst of colic is over by the time your child is 4 months old. And just because your baby had colic does NOT mean that she will be a cranky toddler. Colic does end.
  • Don't give up. Soothing your baby is a trial-and-error process. If one strategy doesn't work, try another. Hang in there, and don't be shy about asking for help. Everyone needs support, and nobody needs it more than the parents of a fussy baby.

Let's Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

  • Tracking Time. Newborns can track, or follow, interesting objects with their eyes. Pick a time when your baby is awake and alert. Hold a colorful object in your hand and gently move it side to side in front of your baby. You will see her eyes follow this object. As she gets older, she will move her head to watch it move.

  • Sing a Song. It's never too early to pick up your baby and sing with her as you gently move to the music. You can also play different types of music and see which your baby seems to enjoy most. Which make her more alert? Which soothe her or put her to sleep? You can also swaddle your baby and sway with her to the music. This can be very calming for both of you and can also help comfort a colicky baby.

What's on Your Mind?

What is it like to be a newborn?
While it is impossible to remember your earliest experiences, research on young babies finds that newborns must suddenly cope with lots of sensory information. Every one of their senses is affected by the major transition from the cozy, protected womb to the world of sights, sounds, smells, touch, and movement. Inside the womb, babies spend a lot of time curled up in a cozy ball. Newborns, however, have bodies stretched out and moved this way and that. Think about how you have to shift your baby's arms and legs just to change his outfit! Babies are poked, prodded, fed, patted, jiggled, rocked, tickled, held upright, and laid flat. The world flashes by, often with sudden and dramatic changes in the intensity of light, sound, and temperature. Babies hear sounds both louder and clearer than they did in the womb. Even hearing their own cries can feel loud and overwhelming. And what about that new process of digestion? Babies' bellies swell and shrink (often not so pleasantly) as food comes and goes.

During the first months of life, babies must adjust to and learn how to cope with this steady rain of sensory input. They are learning how to fall asleep when tired, how to focus their eyes and attention on faces and interesting patterns, how to cope with physical discomfort, and how to recognize and accept soothing and comfort. Successfully learning how to deal with these changes means that a baby is becoming "regulated"—or able to maintain a regular daily pattern of feeding, sleeping, elimination, and interaction. Regulation is the goal of a baby's first few months.

So it is important to keep in mind that newborns, while responsive in their own way, will gradually become more playful partners around 3 to 4 months of age. The ability to control their gaze, to focus their eyes and ears, and to organize and follow through on a "social" response has yet to develop. The best way to get to know your newborn right now is by watching and listening to him. What are the subtle signs that indicate the beginnings of distress? What positions, movements, sights, and sounds alert and engage him? Which comfort him when he's distressed? Which help him drift off to sleep? Observations like these help your baby feel safe, comforted, soothed, and nurtured—both now and throughout his childhood.

This response was developed in collaboration with Robert Weigand, Director, Child Development Laboratory, Arizona State University.

Our 1-month-old falls asleep while being held but cries within 5 minutes of being put down. We don't want her to sleep in the bed with us. What can we do?

You're not alone. This is an extremely common phenomenon. Babies who exhibit this pattern tend to be particularly sensitive to the noises, lights, and other sensory stimulation in their environment. These are the babies who, for example, cry and turn away at the sound of a ringing bell versus other babies who delight in the sound, turning towards the bell and perhaps kicking their arms and legs in delight. (And then there are the babies for whom the sound is not stimulating enough. They may glance at it and then turn away.)

For "sensitive" babies, noises, lights, and movement are more likely to arouse and awaken them. When your daughter is in your arms, she's more protected from outside stimulation and from startling—a newborn reflex that causes her arms and legs to flail—another cause of wakening. Also, being snuggled in your arms is much more like being nestled in the womb than when she's put down in the crib.

The first step toward easier bedtimes is to look for signs of fatigue and to put your baby to bed at that time. Don't wait until she gets her second wind. Many parents decide to keep the baby awake and play longer, hoping that she'll get really tired and fall asleep. But this often backfires. Children who are overtired actually have a harder time falling and staying asleep, and they are more likely to wake up during the night.

Next, if your child is sleeping in a crib, try a bassinet as it's cozier for a tiny baby. Swaddling (wrapping your baby up in a blanket) can also be very comforting and prevents them from startling. Once you put your daughter down, don't rescue her too quickly. If she awakens and cries, pat her stomach or talk to her soothingly before picking her up. If that doesn't work, it's okay to let her cry for 5 to 10 minutes to let off some steam and soothe herself. If this doesn't work, pick her up, rock her, and then try to put her down again. However, be sure to avoid providing any stimulation while you soothe her, such as turning on the lights or talking to her, as these are likely to arouse her and make it harder for her to fall asleep.

Helping your daughter fall asleep by holding and comforting her is what most babies need at this age. It is not "spoiling" her and will not encourage bad habits at this young age. But it is exhausting. If it is any comfort, by the time your child is between 4 and 6 months old, she'll be better able to soothe herself and bedtimes will probably get much easier.

Sometimes I have trouble getting my 1-month-old to wake up to nurse, especially in the middle of the night. Is there something wrong, or is this normal baby behavior? And how do I know that he's eating enough?

Your experience is quite common. Another mom recently told me how challenging it was to feed her 3-week-old in the middle of the night. One time, her husband turned on bright lights and covered their daughter's legs in cold washcloths in an attempt to wake her to nurse. They were both sure she'd starve to death if she wasn't feeding on schedule. These attempts, though well-meaning, were unnecessary. Today, their daughter is a healthy 3-year-old.

Here are some reassuring facts. A 1-month-old should eat every 2 1/2 to 4 hours. If a baby this age misses a feeding, he'll likely make it up at the next one. You can also gauge your child's food intake by doing a diaper count. If your baby is wetting six or more diapers each day, he is probably getting adequate fluid intake. Frequency of bowel movements is more varied: Anywhere from one bowel movement with each feed to as few as one BM every 48 hours is normal. If your baby's pattern falls within these general ranges, and he is alert, responsive, feeding vigorously when awake, and is steadily gaining weight, he is most likely doing fine. But if you notice any discomfort, a low wet diaper count, several missed feedings in a row, or your child seems unusually lethargic and unresponsive, contact your doctor immediately.

Keep in mind that a young baby's feeding and sleeping schedule will change from day to day as he begins to figure out day and night. This variation is normal. Young babies should be fed "on demand" (when they're hungry), so hold off on any sleep training and try not to have any firm expectations about feeding schedules until he is about 4 months old.

Over the coming weeks, as you get to know one another even better, you and your baby will eventually settle into a schedule that feels comfortable and familiar.

My 3-week-old son wants to be held all the time. I can't put him down without him crying within a few minutes. He sleeps with me at night, but only naps during the day if someone is holding him. Any suggestions?

As tough as it can be for new parents who just want a few minutes to themselves, the fact is that very young babies often prefer being held to any other position. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint—staying close to your source of food and protection is actually pretty savvy.

When you hold your son, he feels your body warmth and hears your heartbeat, a sound familiar from inside the womb. He smells your scent. And when you cuddle him, he feels safe; it reminds him of the good old days back inside your belly. Plus, the closer he is, the more likely he is to receive your caresses and kisses.

But what can you do to get the breaks you need? Some parents find that a baby carrier or sling is a good compromise. They allow you to carry your baby while you get things done around the house. My daughter was a lot like your son, and I remember marveling at the fact that even as I bobbed up and down while unloading the dishwasher, she never made a peep in the baby sling. This is also the time to call some of those people who offered to help with the baby—friends, family, neighbors, or a postpartum doula—to come over for an hour or two and hold your son while you shower, return e-mails, run errands, or just take a much-needed nap.

Because your son sleeps with you at night, he is probably pretty used to falling asleep next to another warm body. So as far as his napping goes, you can either let him fall asleep in the baby carrier, or you can help him start learning how to sleep on his own. Try swaddling him to mimic the feeling of being held, and then putting him down. Stay with him and rock him, sing, or stroke his back or hand until he settles down. Babies this young simply don't have the ability to calm themselves yet, so it's not the time to let him "cry it out."

It will take time for your son to learn to fall asleep on his own. Actually, it's a skill he will spend most of his first 6 months (to a year) mastering. So be patient and seek out trusted caregivers who can give you a break when you need it. Believe it or not, your son will be crawling and walking before you know it, and you'll be running to catch up with him!

How developed is the brain at birth?

Although it has already undergone an amazing amount of development, the brain of a newborn baby is still very much a work-in-progress. It is small—little more than one-quarter of its adult size—and uneven in its development. By birth, only the lower portions of the nervous system (the spinal cord and brain stem) are very well developed. The higher regions (the limbic system and cerebral cortex) are still rather undeveloped.

Because the lower brain is the most developed at birth, it is largely in control of a newborn's behavior: all of that kicking, grasping, crying, sleeping, rooting, and feeding are functions of the brain stem and spinal cord. Even a newborn's ability to track a bold moving object, like a red ball of string, or to focus on Mom or Dad's face is thought to be controlled by visual circuits in the brain stem.

The human brain takes time to develop, so nature has ensured that the parts of the brain responsible for the most vital bodily functions—breathing, heartbeat, circulation, sleeping, sucking, and swallowing—are up and running by the time a baby is born. The rest of brain development can follow at a more leisurely pace, allowing a baby's life experience and caregiving environment to shape his emerging mind.

What can I do to make my baby smarter from birth?

In spite of all the recent hype about "making your baby smarter," scientists have not discovered any special tricks for enhancing children's brain development. Normal, loving, responsive caregiving seems to provide babies with everything they need to explore, learn, and become good thinkers and problem-solvers.

The one form of stimulation that has been proven to make a difference is language: Babies and children who are talked to, read to, and provided with lots of verbal interaction show somewhat more advanced language skills than children who are not as verbally engaged by their caregivers. Because language is critical to cognitive and social development, simply talking and listening to your child is one of the best ways to make the most of his or her critical brain-building years.

I am a mom of a newborn. French is my native language. I have heard conflicting opinions on speaking both French and English with her—some say it's good, others say that it can delay language development. What should I do?

Go for it. Exposing your baby to a natural and rich environment in both English and French will help her become bilingual before she ever begins any formal education. And, by providing your baby the opportunity to learn the language of your family's culture, you are helping her develop a cultural identity and connection to her family's roots.

There is still a lot of research to be done on childhood bilingualism. What we do know is that children can learn two or more languages during childhood without any problems. And that in fact, it is much easier to learn language in the early years. The following are some variables that impact bilingual development that parents should keep in mind:

  • Babies learn at their own individual pace. So your child may develop her language skills at a different rate than a monolingual child and it may have nothing to do with the fact that she is learning two languages at once.
  • A key variable for bilingual acquisition is consistency in how children are exposed to the two languages throughout their early childhood. You can provide consistency in a variety of ways. For example, you might speak only French to her while Dad speaks only English. Or, only French is spoken in the home and English outside the home. An important consideration for parents living in communities where the non-English language is not supported is to provide children with lots of non-English language experiences in the home to compensate.
  • Be aware that your child may develop her vocabulary at a different rate than a monolingual child. Children learning two languages at the same time may have smaller vocabularies in one or both languages compared to children learning only one language. However, when both languages are taken into consideration, bilingual children tend to have the same number of words as monolinguals. Keep in mind that these differences are usually temporary. By the time most bilingual children have entered school, their vocabulary in both languages has caught up with monolingual children.

And don't worry about your child getting confused by the exposure to and use of two languages. She will begin to sort it out on her own, and even sometimes use words from both languages in the same sentence. This does not mean she is mixed up! This combined usage is a very normal stage. So delight in the fact that you are giving your child a wonderful gift of two languages.



Newsletter Authors:
Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Parenting Resources Writer and
Claire Lerner, LCSW, Director of Parenting Resources, ZERO TO THREE

Expert Reviewers:
Terrie Rose, PhD, President and Founder, Baby’s Space
Ross Thompson, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis
Robert Weigand, MS, IMH-E, Director, Child Development Laboratory,
Arizona State University

This ZERO TO THREE newsletter series was made possible by generous funding from MetLife Logo .


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