The newborn days are behind you. As your baby becomes more alert and mobile, each day will bring exciting new adventures. Every experience — from cuddling before nap time to listening to a sibling's chatter — will help your baby learn more about the world.
Expect your baby to grow and develop at his or her own unique pace. Consider these general infant development milestones as your baby's strengths and preferences begin to emerge.
What to expect
As your baby becomes more aware of the surrounding world, he or she will begin exploring. From ages 4 to 6 months, your baby is likely to enjoy:
- Evolving motor skills. Your baby's arms and legs probably wiggle and kick more purposefully now. Soon you might notice your baby rocking on his or her stomach and eventually rolling over. As your baby gains muscle strength, he or she will have better head control. Most babies this age raise their heads when lying facedown. They might even try to push themselves up or bear weight on their legs. Around age 6 months, many babies begin sitting alone after being positioned upright.
- Improving hand-eye coordination. Your baby will probably grasp your finger, a rattle or a soft object. Anything within reach is likely to end up in your baby's mouth. You might notice your baby pulling objects closer with a raking motion of the hands.
- Clearer vision. Your baby is beginning to be able to distinguish subtle shade of reds, blues and yellows. He or she might enjoy more complex patterns and shapes. You might notice your baby concentrating on a toy or staring at his or her reflection. If you roll a ball across the floor, your baby will probably turn his or her head to follow the action.
- Babbling and other new sounds. Babies this age often start to babble chains of consonants. Your baby might respond to sound by making sounds and use his or her voice to express joy. He or she also might distinguish emotions by tone of voice — and begin responding to "no." Your baby might even recognize his or her name.
Promoting your baby's development
At this age, learning and play are inseparable. It doesn't take expensive educational toys or intense effort, however, to capture your baby's attention. To promote infant development:
- Talk to your baby. Ask questions and respond to your baby's coos and gurgles. Describe what you see, hear and smell around the house, outdoors, and when you're out and about. Use simple words such as "baby," "cat," "go," "walk," "hot" and "cold." Remember that your tone of voice and facial expression can communicate ideas and emotions.
- Change positions. Lay your baby on his or her tummy for a few supervised minutes. Hold a colorful toy or make a noise to encourage your baby to pick up his or her head or practice rolling over. Hold your baby's hands while he or she is lying down and say, "Are you ready to stand up? Here we go!" Count to three as you gently pull your baby to a standing position. When your baby's ready, try a sitting position. Hold your baby or use pillows for support.
- Offer simple toys. Babies this age often enjoy colorful toys, especially those that make sounds. Try a musical toy, a rattle with a handle, a soft ball or a wooden spoon. To help your baby focus, put out only one or two toys at a time. Place one toy slightly out of reach to encourage your baby to stretch and creep. Shake a rattle behind your baby's head and let him or her turn and grab it. Let your baby watch his or her movements in a mirror.
- Read to your baby. Reading to a baby promotes speech and thought development. Your baby will soak in your words and might even mimic the sounds you make. Start with books featuring large, brightly colored pictures. Describe what's happening on each page. Point to and name common objects.
- Play favorite games. Cover your face with your hands, then remove your hands and say, "Peekaboo, I see you!" Play patty-cake. Ask, "Where are your toes?" Then touch your child's toes and say, "Here are your toes!" Hide one of your baby's toys with the corner of a blanket and encourage him or her to find it.
- Take time to cuddle. Balance stimulation with plenty of quiet time. Gentle caresses and tender kisses can help your baby feel safe, secure and loved. When you hold or rock your baby, talk quietly or sing soothing songs.
- Turn on the tunes. Music can help calm, entertain and teach your baby. Sing or play lullabies, upbeat children's songs or your own favorites.
- Let your baby set the pace. When your baby turns away, closes his or her eyes, or gets fussy, take a break. Even babies need space. Get to know your baby's unique personality, temperament, likes and dislikes. Responding to your baby's needs will help you continue to build your baby's trust in you.
When something's not right
Your baby might reach some developmental milestones ahead of schedule and lag behind a bit on others. This is normal. It's a good idea, however, to be aware of the signs or symptoms of a problem.
Consult your baby's doctor if you're concerned about your baby's development or your baby:
- Has very stiff or tight muscles
- Seems extremely floppy
- Reaches with only one hand
- Hasn't shown any improvement in head control
- Doesn't respond to sounds, such as by startling to sudden loud noises
- Doesn't reach for or bring objects to his or her mouth
- Doesn't attempt to roll over or sit
- Has an eye or eyes that consistently turn in or out
- Doesn't babble
- Doesn't seem to enjoy being around people or spontaneously smile
Trust your instincts. The earlier a problem is detected, the earlier it can be treated. Above all, delight in your baby's discoveries and abilities.