What do Babies Really Need?
Tips on how to boost development from 0-3 months
Babies can benefit from much more than first meets the eyes. From the minute they are born, development starts to occur and their brain begins to form connections at an amazing rate. As parents, there is a lot you can do to boost your infant’s growth and to support their learning from an early stage. Here are some simple yet highly effective tips on how to facilitate rich early experiences and stimulate development starting from the moment your child is born.
Connection is key
Building strong relationships with their parents and main carers is at the core of early learning and development. So try to make your baby’s daily routine about more than just feeding and changing. As you go about daily chores, fill your little one’s ‘emotional bucket’ by making regular eye contact, talking to them and engaging in play. A good way to start these interactions is by making faces, sticking out your tongue, singing and mimicking the sounds they start to make. Give them time to observe and respond but be mindful of the cues they might give you to indicate they’ve had enough.
Playing after a nap or feeding time tends to work best! Babies are usually more alert and less grumpy when well-rested and fed. As young babies are short-sighted and can only see clearly about 20cm in front of their faces, remember to hold your little one close when interacting with him/her.
Young babies should be active too!
Did you know that physical development underpins all other areas of learning and can improve cognitive function? Therefore, avoid keeping your baby restrained in prams and bouncers for a long time. Instead, when they are awake, give them opportunities to be active. Even those instinctively rocking movements that we do with babies are beneficial for their physical development: they can help support their spatial orientation, boost their sensory and motor function. With this in mind, make time to soothe your baby by rocking side-to-side and up-and-down, always in a gentle manner.
Since an infant’s physical development begins at the head and then moves to other parts of the body, tummy time is the perfect exercise for babies as young as **2-weeks old to start improving their head and neck control, as well as to help strengthen their core muscles. Start off by putting your baby tummy down on your chest so that you are face-to-face with him. Just a few seconds will do! Many babies tend not to like this exercise so, by interacting up close with them, you will make this activity a bit more pleasant. Another idea is to place your baby on their tummy for less than one minute after changing their nappy. This will make tummy time a regular part of your routine and help your little one gradually feel more comfortable with it. As your baby grows, start giving them a chance to experiment being in different positions, such as on their back, as well as sideways – always under your supervision. During tummy time on the floor, put interesting things beside them so they can practice trying to reach, stretch, turn and eventually roll over.
**As children are all different, please consult your pediatrician to confirm that this is appropriate for your child.
Don’t shy away from talking, singing and mimicking your infant’s cooing and babbling sounds. Talking and singing to your baby has numerous benefits not only to their language skills but also to their cognitive, personal, social and emotional development. As such, this is a habit well worth getting into!
Your baby will already be familiar with your voice even before he/she is born so listening to you talk will help make them feel safe and secure from the moment they come into this world. On top of that, research shows that a child’s language skills by the time they reach preschool are strongly influenced by the number of words he/she has been exposed to since they were just a few weeks old. So, chatter away! Don’t forget to make eye contact and, when your baby responds, listen to them before replying, giving them a bit of time to explore the sounds which they are learning how to make. This will start teaching them social cues and how to have a conversation, as well as make them feel valued. Tune in to the way they communicate with you, smile and don’t hesitate to occasionally use a high-pitched voice. There is science behind ‘baby talk’!
When it comes to singing, don’t be afraid to repeat tunes! You can even try and connect rhymes to different parts of your baby’s routine, such as naptime and bath time, by using the same song during that same activity every time. As your baby hears the same rhymes again and again, he/she will start to remember them. With practice, they can even develop the ability of anticipating what will happen next in their routine as they approach 6 months.
Select the right toys
The vast number of toys currently available on the market for babies can be overwhelming but which ones are actually useful when it comes to supporting the development of infants from 0-3 months? One of the most important ways through which young children learn is through their senses, so toys that stimulate them tend to be a good starting point. While taste, smell and touch are already well-developed by the time your baby is born, his/her eyesight will need a few months to fully mature. Therefore, you can start encouraging visual development by hanging a mobile on your child’s cot or pushchair. Remember: Your baby is short-sighted at this stage, so keep the mobile and other hanging toys at a close distance.
As your baby grows, add 2-3 objects like baby-safe mirrors, soft books, crinkle toys, rattles and other noisy items to their play gym at slightly different levels. Do ensure that you rotate the toys and, from time to time, change the side in which the items are placed. This will encourage your baby to move their head, strengthening their neck muscles and gradually improving their coordination too. By the time your infant approaches 3 months, under your supervision, small pieces of fabric of different textures can also be hung on the play gym. This will encourage your little explorer to start reaching, holding, pulling and squeezing and, consequently, stimulate their sensory development, motor and hand control. Research shows that contrasting tones, like black-and-white, tend to be easier for babies to see and will hold their interest for a longer period of time without over stimulating them. Therefore, do take this into account as well when selecting your baby’s first toys.
Respect your child’s pace
As a mum of two and having worked in education for more than 15 years, I can tell you with conviction: Each child IS different and unique. So, even though we look at milestones and developmental patterns to understand what to expect at different age ranges, it’s important to keep in mind that development is a non-linear process and that each child’s learning journey is different. Avoid comparing your baby to his older sibling, cousin or to your friend’s child. If you suspect that there may be a delay in your child’s development, especially if you notice that he/she is not making any progress, address the issue with your pediatrician.
Nonetheless, no matter how your child is progressing or whether there might be a delay, never forget that early relationships and experiences always play an important role in how infants grow and develop. Therefore, make time to get to know your baby and start tuning in to their individual needs from the time you bring them home from hospital. Your care, love and support can make a difference which is likely to have an impact not only in their early childhood but for many years to come.