Healthy living

Child development 3–6 months

Babies between 3 and 6 months can be very enjoyable. They have come a long way in the first 3 months and they are usually very social beings who delight in being with you. Parents have usually learned enough of their baby's ways and messages to get their responses right most of the time. Early troubles such as feeding difficulties and crying have often settled down.

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn – please change to suit your child's sex.

Social and emotional development

  • By 3 or 4 months 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 will be making eye contact with you and you will be smiling at each other. He will be able to ‘read’ some of your expressions and will smile when you show you are happy and may look worried if you look cross or tired.
  • He has learnt that you are the person (or one of the people) who comes a lot of the time to meet his needs, but he does not yet fully understand that you are a separate person.
  • He still has an idea that the whole of life is happening inside himself and he is making all of it happen. The idea that you are completely separate from him, and can take yourself away from him, will not come until he is 7 months or older.
  • When you understand what he wants and try to meet his needs, he feels that the world is safe and predictable and good things come from inside him as well as from you. He is getting the idea that relationships are rewarding and also that he is valuable, and this is an important basis for his relationship with you and other people as well as his own self esteem.
  • At this stage he is often happy to smile and interact with strangers because he is getting so much pleasure from smiling and interacting with you.
  • You will be having ‘conversations’ with each other, and he will be getting excited at the feeling of you responding to him and kick his legs and wave his arms.
  • He will still easily become over stimulated, so take care – when your baby has too much excitement he may 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 enjoys life by laughing and kicking her legs
  • likes people
  • is interested in the surroundings and activities going on around
  • clearly shows enjoyment at being bathed, talked to, etc.

Physical development and motor skills

  • Your baby is starting to get some control over her body – even starting to realise that it is actually her body.
  • She will spend time looking carefully at her hands and touching and looking at her feet, getting the idea that it feels from the outside as well as the inside and that it’s all attached.
  • She will grasp at objects in front of her now and you will need to put stronger mobiles above her cot and pram or stroller.
  • Her body might be hard for her to control but it does interesting things when she can.

It is very important for your baby to spend time on her tummy on the floor kicking her legs and waving her arms as if she is about to swim off at any moment. This strengthens her back and helps her to begin to learn how to crawl. She will get frustrated after a while with not being able to hold her head up for a long time or move forward – but give her as long as she can tolerate.

Note: Do not leave a baby on his or her tummy to sleep. Placing your baby on his or her back to sleep reduces the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) which includes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents.

Put interesting things on the floor near her so that she wants to try to move towards them when she is ready. She will take everything to her mouth – that’s her way of exploring the shape and texture of objects. Rattles, plastic spoons and toys – anything coloured that is small enough to hold but too large to swallow will be a good object for her to discover the nature of matter.

During these months your baby:

  • begins to discover hands belong to her and plays with fingers at about 3 to 4 months
  • is able to hold objects for brief periods at 3 to 4 months
  • swipes at dangling objects at 3 to 4 months, but usually misses
  • is able to lift her head and chest when on her tummy by 4 months
  • when on tummy will lift and wave her arms and legs about
  • grabs and plays with her toes when lying on her back at about 4 to 5 months
  • rolls over from front to back at about 4 to 6 months
  • grabs for a toy such as a block or rattle at around 5 months
  • brings toys and objects to mouth if put in her hand
  • sits up when being held by her hands but topples over if left in sitting position
  • is able to support her own weight when stood on feet (don’t do this too often as it does not mean he is ready to walk)
  • when being held grabs at hair, spectacles and other objects like badges or chains.

Hearing and seeing

Your baby is starting to understand the world around him and the incoming signals.

  • His eye muscles work well and he can follow you with his eyes, moving from looking at one object to another and focus on small objects.
  • If he can he will check what he sees by grasping and mouthing the object. “Yes,” he thinks, “That’s round and smooth and mum keeps saying the word ‘spoon’ – this ‘spoon’ thing has existence in the world as an object in its own right.”
  • His exploring is important, so give him time to look properly at objects and try to help him be comfortable so he can concentrate on them.
  • Sounds as well as sights are becoming familiar and defined – your baby will recognise voices and turn his head towards them.

Speech and language

Long before they can speak, babies are listening to their parents and carers. They begin to make little noises and sounds which come before speech. If parents and carers imitate these they are 'talking' to the baby.

By responding to your baby's needs when she cries, you show that you have heard her and that she matters. This is the start of communication.

  • Show her your tongue and practise simple sounds together – ‘maa, daa’ are good ones to begin with. She will be very interested in how your mouth works and how the sound comes out.
  • When she makes a sound, repeat it to her so she knows what sound she has made. This also starts a conversation game between you.
  • Repeat single words to her a lot – name what she is seeing (a spoon) and what you are doing (bath). Say her name.

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

Babies can start to be interested in books from a very early age so read to them often.

By 3 to 6 months, your baby usually:

  • coos and gurgles with pleasure
  • begins babbling and then listening at around 3 to 4 months
  • ‘talks’ to toys at around 5 to 6 months
  • turns head to sounds.

Activities for a 3 to 6 month old child

  • Talk to your baby all the time, telling him what you are doing and what different noises are. Use simple words and very short sentences.
  • Make faces and blow raspberries on his belly.
  • Sing to him.
  • Place him on the floor in a safe place on her tummy for short periods to play.
  • Place him on the floor without a nappy to allow him the freedom to kick.
  • Provide him with bright objects to look at and place some within reaching distance so that he can accidentally touch them initially and then try to touch them again.
  • Provide him with a variety of things to do and either change what he is looking at or move him to a different spot so he has something else to look at.
  • Place colourful toys nearby for him to touch / try to touch, look at and hit.

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 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 her mouth, which means that she may swallow them or they may cause her to choke.
  • Babies often roll over by the time they are 4 or 5 months and can get into danger quickly. Make sure that she is not left alone unless she is in a safe place.

Summary

Social emotional

During these months your baby:

  • laughs aloud by about 3 months (between 2 to 4 months)
  • enjoys being played with (laughs, kicks) by 4 months.

Talk with your doctor or child health nurse if your baby:

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

Motor skills, vision and hearing

During these months your baby:

  • can hold an object by 3 to 4 months
  • looks at hands and plays with own fingers, by about 3 months
  • lifts head and chest when laying on her tummy by 4 months
  • rolls over at around 5 months (between 4 to 6 months)
  • starts being able to chew around 5 to 6 months
  • watches activities of those around
  • makes eye contact
  • likes looking at people and bright objects.

Talk with your doctor or child health nurse if your baby:

  • seems more floppy or stiff than other babies
  • is not opening and closing his hands and fingers
  • holds his arms and legs in one position most of the time
  • is not looking around at objects and people.

Daily activities

During these months your baby:

  • has more or less a daily routine
  • begins to react to familiar situations by smiling, cooing and making excited movements
  • recognises breast or bottle, makes movements showing pleasure.

Parents can say whether the baby ‘enjoys’ things, like baths or being undressed.

Talk with your doctor or child health nurse if:

  • it is still hard to help her settle
  • your baby is not gaining weight well.

Thinking and understanding

During these months your baby:

  • recognises mother and other close family members
  • shows interest in what is going on around him.

Talk with your doctor or child health nurse if your baby:

  • does not seem to recognise mother or others
  • does not seem interested in things around him.

Speech and language

During these months your baby:

  • searches for a sound (turns head) by 4 months
  • turns head to a talking person by 5 months
  • makes lots of little sounds
  • takes turns when 'talking' with parents.

Talk with your doctor or child health nurse if your baby:

  • does not react to loud noises
  • is not looking to find where sounds are coming from (eyes only at this age)
  • is not making sounds.

Children are different and may develop at different rates

If your child does not do all the things in this topic, it may be because your child is working on some different area of his learning and development at present.

Children usually follow the same pattern of development and it is good to have reassurance that your child is developing normally in their own unique way.

If your child is very different from other children, you are worried about your child's development, or if your child’s development seems to go backwards, you should talk with a health professional about your concerns. If there is a problem, getting help and ideas early will help. Remember that what matters is to support your child in moving forward from where they are now.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book.
  • Look in the phone directory under child health centres.
  • Visit your nearest child health centre.

Local family doctor

Ngala Helpline

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network

Kidsafe WA

  • 8.30am – 5.00pm (Monday to Friday)
  • Phone: 9340 8509
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 802 244 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Kidsafe WA website (external site)

Red Nose

  • 9.00am – 5.00pm (Monday to Friday)
  • Phone: 9474 3544
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 199 466 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Red Nose (external site)

© Women’s and Children’s Health Network, reproduced with permission. The South Australian Government does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of this reproduction.


Acknowledgements
Child and Adolescent Community Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Link to HealthyWA Facebook page