Healthy living

Child development 0–3 months

The world’s a big and scary place for a new baby. They don’t know that you’re there to comfort, feed and care for them.

They can’t understand that they’re comfortable because she’s full and safe, or uncomfortable because they’re afraid or hungry.

From your smell and voice, they’ll quickly learn to recognise that you’re the person who comforts and feeds them most, but not that you’re their parent.

However, even from birth, they’ll start to communicate with you with signals when they’re tired and hungry, or awake and alert.

Your baby is learning all the time. Your job is to help them know that the world is a friendly place, where their needs will be met, so they can learn to feel safe and loved.

Social and emotional

For your new baby, everything is new and scary at first, even a nappy change.

  • They don’t know that they're a person.
  • They don’t know who comes when they cry.
  • They feel happy when feeding, but don’t know what ‘happy’ is.
  • They cry when they’re hungry or tired, but don’t understand you’re there to care for them.

Crying

Babies under 3 months often cry a lot, especially in the late afternoon or evening.

We’re not sure, but this crying, often called colic, might be partly caused by your baby simply being overwhelmed by everything that’s happening, both inside his body and outside.

‘Jiggling’ is not a good way to settle your baby. It can be very scary or even painful, even if they stop crying. It is important to never shake a baby.

Newborn babies do not cry ‘for attention’ or to punish their parents.

In their first 3 months, a new baby cannot decide to cry. They’ll cry because of something they’re feeling or that’s happening. They don’t understand WHAT is happening and that you might be able to help them feel better.

Your baby likes the full feeling they have after a feed, when they hear your soothing voice, or when they’re being cuddled.

They don’t like feeling hungry or frightened.

But they can’t understand that feelings are caused by a full tummy or hunger.

Why does he cry when I’m upset?

Because babies feel but aren’t yet able to think, your baby will pick up your feelings. They’ll be calm when you’re calm and unhappy if you are unhappy.

If you feel upset, they’ll feel upset too, though they won’t know why he’s feeling that way. 

So, when you’re tired and frazzled, your baby may be hard to settle, making things seem even worse!

Each baby is different

It really is true. Each baby has a different personality. They may be easy going and placid, or shy and worried, or easily upset.

You’ll get to know this over the next few months. Your baby is different and will grow and develop in the way that is right for them. 

Your face and voice

  • The human face is the first and most important shape that your baby learns.
  • The sounds of human voices are also important, even though your baby doesn’t understand them.
  • Your baby is interested in you – especially your voice and your face. 
  • Looking into someone’s eyes is a vital part of forming close and loving relationships. Show your baby your face and gently talk to your baby right from the start.
  • Don’t feel rejected if your baby sometimes turns away. Tiny babies often get tired when they interact – they just needs a rest.
  • Babies need to feel safe – that you’re looking after them. They often begin to smile at a familiar face and look at you carefully by 4 to 6 weeks.

When it’s all too much

Since your baby doesn’t understand what’s happening around them, your baby can become upset if there’s too much to see or do.

They can easily feel overwhelmed by sounds, colours, shapes and touch. Sometimes it’s just too much! 

Loud noises may frighten your baby in the first months, but you can soothe them by talking in a gentle voice, humming, playing lullabies, or playing music she heard while you were pregnant.

Physical development

Still developing

Although babies are ready to live and grow outside the womb, parts of their bodies are still immature.

Your new baby’s body is all brand new and never been used before!

It will take the first 3 months to get your baby’s digestive system running smoothly. You can tell by your baby’s face when they’re focused on whatever’s going on inside their tummy.

Moving

Your new baby will move their body while they’re awake, but your baby doesn’t know how to make each part of their body move, or even that all the bits belong to them.

In the first 8 weeks, your baby has no control over their movements – they are an involuntary (reflex).

Sucking, grasping (holding something tight in his hand), and startling (‘jumping’ when there is a loud noise or when he’s suddenly moved) are all reflexes.

From about 8 weeks, your baby will begin to watch their hands and feet wave in the air, and begin to wave his fist towards your face or something they want. Your baby’s starting to get the idea that they have a body that moves, feels and has skin all round it, and that they has some control over what it does!

They’ll start to work out how to lift their head when lying on their tummy, and kick their legs.

Safety

Even though your baby can’t roll, they can wriggle and kick, so never leave them alone on a high surface such as your bed or a change table.

Hearing and seeing

Newborn babies can hear – your baby’s been hearing noises from well before they were born.

They can see, but only see close things clearly.

  • In the first 3 months your baby will be attracted by faces, bright lights and colours, stripes, dots and patterns, but not understand what they’re seeing. 
  • They’ll first recognise that eyes, nose and mouth make a face.
  • Then your baby will begin to recognise particular faces and other things like their teddy. Hang pictures of faces and simple toys above her cot to give her practice at looking and learning.
Speech and language
  • Babies show how they feel through their face, voice and body movements.
  • Crying is the main way your newborn baby can let you know something is wrong, and soon they may start having different cries for different things – hunger, pain, wet, cold, fear and loneliness.
  • You will begin to recognise these different cries in the first few weeks. Babies have no understanding about time so, for them; all their needs are immediate and urgent.
  • Try to respond to your baby as quickly as you can so they begin to understand that you’ll be there when they calls out for you. This develops the feeling of security, which is very important.
  • By 7 or 8 weeks, your baby will be making cooing and simple sounds. They’ll also listen to what you say, then make noises back as they ‘talk’ to you.
Activities
  • Make a face mobile and hang it above their cot, facing him.
  • Stroke different parts of their body to see how they likes to be touched.
  • Speak to them gently and use their name.
  • Play music.
  • Sing to your baby. 
  • Cuddle your baby a lot.
  • Let them look at your face as you talk to your baby.
  • Copy their little gestures.
  • Gently rock them.
Feeding and sleeping

Babies need to feed throughout the night in the first few months. Most babies wake every 2 to 3 hours for a feed, and sleep a total of 12 to 20 hours each day – this is normal. Some babies will resettle when you just touch and soothe them – others may need a feed.

Do not leave your baby on their tummy when they sleep. Sleeping on the tummy increases the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy

Your baby is unique

Every baby is different and may develop at different rates.

So, if your baby does not do some of these things, they may be ‘working’ on a different area of learning and development. However, babies usually follow the same pattern of development, and it’s good to feel that your baby is developing normally, in thei own unique way.

If you are worried about your baby’s development, or if they are very different from other babies, talk with your doctor or child health nurse. If there is a problem, it’s better to get help early.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the service finder for child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Helpline

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network


Last reviewed: 21-05-2019
Acknowledgements

Child and Adolescent Health Service – 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.

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