From birth, children are constantly learning about their world through their senses, observations, and interactions. Through this exploration, they are rapidly developing their ability to interact with the world by improving their cognitive, language, physical, and socioemotional skills. A developmental psychologist would call these the four major “domains” of child development. In understanding how your baby will develop, you should consider all four of these domains. Since these are all intertwined within your baby and developing at the same time, you will start to notice overlap between the categories.
Next, we will explore how your baby will start developing in each of these four domains from birth to one month.
Your baby’s cognitive development can be observed through his or her eyes and preferences. Amazingly, your baby is already making decisions! He or she prefers the mother’s voice, human faces and eyes, striking visual displays, and sweet-tasting liquids. You might even see your baby recoil from an unpleasant smell. This shows your baby’s senses are developing rapidly, and he or she can even distinguish between bad and good smells and tastes. Your baby may also start to investigate his or her own body more, specifically the hands and fingers. In addition, you can get your baby’s curious attention by slowly moving objects about 12 to 15 inches away from his or her face from one side of his or her field of vision to the other.
Your baby might not be able to speak yet, but will certainly show preferences for certain sounds, like music or familiar voices. Your baby may even turn in the direction of a familiar voice, like your own! To communicate with you, your baby will use sounds and movements. For example, if your baby is rooting or making sucking motions, he or she might be trying to ask you to feed them. Crying might be another way that your baby alerts you to hunger. There are different types of infant cries, and the majority do not mean your baby is in distress. Babies are more in tune with emotions and your mood than you may think, so do your best to stay calm. This relaxed mood will help reassure your baby that everything is okay and you are there for him or her.
Your baby is born with a variety of reflexes such as sucking, swallowing, coughing, gagging, grasping, blinking, and startling. A reflex is an involuntary movement that always occurs in response to a certain type of stimulation, and baby reflexes tend to fulfill basic needs for survival.
Test them out! If you stroke your baby’s cheek, he or she will likely turn in the direction of your touch and open his or her mouth, as if in preparation for feeding: the rooting reflex. If you firmly stroke the bottom of your baby’s foot, your baby’s big toe will bend backwards while the others spread out: the Babinski reflex. If you lower your baby very quickly to give the feeling of falling, your baby’s will lift and fan his or her arms out before curling into a fetal position, just like an adult startle response: the Moro reflex.
It will be a few months before your baby learns to crawl or sit up, and so your presence for your baby during these first few months is crucial. You’ll notice your child may tend to keep their hands clenched most of the time. It is also normal if you see your baby’s eyes cross or if they don’t seem to be able to coordinate their hands and eyes. Though he or she is developing quickly, these coordination skills must be developed over time.
Social and Emotional Development
Your baby most likely isn’t going to have a booming social life. In fact, your baby will most likely sleep between 17 and 19 hours a day! Wondering why you are still so tired? Your baby does sleep quite often, but he or she will do it in a series of short sleeping periods. Though your baby does not have a lot of time to be social, don’t count him or her out. Your baby is already learning to interact with you and other people. In one classic developmental study, newborns cried in response to the sound of other infants crying. This shows that even in the first few days of life, infants may be able to “empathize” with other infants. Another study showed that newborns prefer to look at faces that are gazing directly back at them, demonstrating that they already know that where other people are looking might be important. This certainly sets the stage for more advanced social communication and interactions in the future.
As you learn about the steps of child development, remember that all infants are different, and will develop at their own unique pace. There will be variability in when your child reaches every point of the developmental timetable, and in what order: if your neighbor’s baby might have started sitting up at 5 months while your 8-month-old still can’t, or if your baby learns to walk before learning to crawl, that is not necessarily a cause for concern! In fact, reaching a milestone earlier or later generally does not predict whether an infant will be more advanced or delayed later in life, and it is not unusual for infants to regress at a skill from time to time either.
When discussing a child’s development, you will frequently hear the term developmental milestone: steps that most children take by a certain age, such as taking a first step or saying a first word. But to emphasize, milestones matched with specific time periods are not meant to be a rule book your child needs to follow. Rather, the milestones give parents a broader idea of when their child is reaching the next step in development. What is most important is that your infant progresses at a steady pace. We hope that milestones give you comfort and something to be excited about and celebrate as your baby grows and adapts to his or her new environment.
For additional information and resources, take a look at the following.
1. It’s never too early to play with your baby; and the more exciting and enriching experiences you give your baby, the better! Even though your baby might not be able to sit up or crawl just yet, check out this article from Parents Magazine about small ways that you can play with your newborn.
2. Were you curious about the newborn reflexes that we discussed? Do you want to try the reflex on your baby but are not quite sure how? Here is a video by Worth Publishers about the same reflexes that we talked about above, plus more!
3. You may have heard a lot about the term “developmental milestones” in relation to your baby. At what age is your baby supposed to sit up, walk, crawl, say his or her first word? We will be summarizing your child’s development for every age group in this course. But for more information on developmental milestones, when to be concerned and when to be excited about your child’s development, see the Child Mind Institute’s “Parents Guide to Developmental Milestones” here.
4. You might have guessed by now that your baby’s five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing) are incredibly important to their learning and development. This is how your baby learns about how their world works. You can play a role in giving your baby a more exciting and enriching sensory experience. See this article by the Baby Center UK for ways that you can stimulate and help develop your baby’s senses.
Farroni, T., Csibra, G., Simion, F., & Johnson, M. H. (2002). Eye contact detection in humans from birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(14), 9602-9605.
Mayes, L. C. & Cohen, D. J. (2002). The Yale Child Study Center Guide to Understanding Your Child: Healthy Development from Birth to Adolescence. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
Payne, V. G., & Isaacs, L. D. (1987). Human motor development: A lifespan approach. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield Pub. Co.
Sagi, A., & Hoffman, M. L. (1976). Empathic distress in the newborn. Developmental Psychology, 12(2), 175.
University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. Developmental Milestones: Birth to 12 Months. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ocd.pitt.edu/Files/PDF/Foster/27758_ocd_DM_b-12.pdf