Newborn infants' best visual experience is limited to close distances. The eye-to-eye distance between a mother's face and her feeding baby's face (8 to 15 inches) is optimum. Because of such close up vision, it is difficult for a newborn to follow a moving object but you will notice she will spend longer periods of time studying your face during this first month of life. Talking to her while maintaining close eye-to-eye contact will maximize the bonding experience. Babies do see in color from birth; however, they prefer to regard black and white stripes and bright red objects.
Your 2-month-old has matured from a glorified doll to a real human being! He will smile at and with you and make purposeful sounds to keep your attention. You even have a solid sense that he recognizes your face and voice as belonging to someone very important in his life. Enjoy this special time by singing songs and having conversations about day-to-day events. Experiencing this visual and auditory input will lay an important foundation for language reception and expression over the next few months.
By 3 months of age, infants can bring their hands to the midline (in front of their face). This promotes several benefits: they can easily get their fingers, thumb, and often fist into their mouth enabling them to suck on these body parts and thus promote self-calming skills (vs. having to rely on their parents). In addition, the ability to reach out with their hands and tactilely interact with their environment leads to much excitement. During this period it is important for infants to experience "tummy time" - (i.e., placement on the tummy). This position promotes utilization of back and neck muscles. For infants with flattening of their head due to positioning restrictions of lying on the back, the prone position will also help alleviate this cosmetic issue.
The 4-month-old baby is generally a very happy person. They are able to recognize and anticipate predictable events and express their emotions with great verbal enthusiasm. Gone are the days of intermittent and soft cooing. By 4 months of age infants will laugh with gusto. The opposite is also true - take away their pleasure and be prepared for howls of rage and frustration. Babies of this age also love more vigorous play, e.g., bouncing on your lap or being held up high in the air. Throwing a baby into the air is not recommended due to their weak neck muscles and the potential whiplash effect and brain injury.
The vision capabilities of a 5-month-old baby have matured tremendously. She is able to follow the movement of objects both in close and far distance. Brightly-colored and contrasting colors are greeted with excitement and enthusiasm. Similarly, expressive language skills have also advanced. The ability to make repetitive sounds (e.g. "dada") will bring huge rewards of adult interaction and excitement. This is also the age of practicing making loud vocalizations for the pure excitement of demonstrating a new skill set. Singing songs, reading books and pointing out objects in books and the local environment provide the early foundation of language acquisition.
Babies learn to sit independently between 6 to 8 months of age. Acquiring this skill is a wonderful accomplishment from your child's perspective. He can attain an elevated position and get a much more complete view of the horizontal world - a task not available when lying on your back or stomach. Sitting also allows both hands to be free to explore this new world. Everything that can be grabbed will immediately go into your child's mouth. Safety is paramount. Any object less than the diameter of the cardboard tube of a roll of toilet paper is a potential choking hazard.
Between 7 and 9 months of age infants advance through several stages of fine motor skills. The unsophisticated two handed grabbing of large objects is gradually refined to the "pincer grasp" - picking up tiny objects (carpet fuzz balls is a classic example) using only the thumb and pointer finger. Unfortunately, the mandatory urge to place small chokable objects into the mouth is extraordinary powerful. The best way to ensure a safe environment is to get down on your hands and knees and see the world from your child's perspective. Small food items, coins, tiny rocks, and other assorted potentially lethal items must be discovered by you before being discovered by your child.
Many 8-month-old children are learning how to pull to stand. When your child is mastering this skill, it is time to lower the crib mattress, take out any large objects or bumpers that might act like a step stool and enable your baby to escape (by falling) from their crib. In addition, pulling to stand next to the couch enables your infant to explore the area under a sofa cushion and discover objects perfect for choking (e.g., peanuts from the recently viewed football game.
Many 9-month-old children find exploration of their parent's faces great fun. Using their "pointer finger" as a means of exploration of your mouth, nose, eyes, and ears reinforces their fine motor skills as well as generating squeals of delight or pain depending on whether you received a poke in the eye or not. Many children also enjoy patting your face with their open palm. Equally exciting is to remove objects out of a larger container. A box containing various sizes of Tupperware containers allow mastery of the idea of relative size (big vs. little). In addition, banging objects together provides incredible joy to your child as it reinforces mastery and predictability over their environment.
One of the most remarkable developments occurs around 10 months of age: the concept of "object permanence." This skill enables your child to realize that even though a desired toy or person can't be seen or heard it still exists. Younger infants operate on an "out of sight…out of mind" capability. A 10-month-old child realizes that mom still exists when she leaves him in a playpen to go answer the first doorbell. The corollary to object permanence is separation anxiety - i.e. "I know you should be here and I feel abandoned." Games which reinforce object permanence such a "peek a boo" prompt squeals of delight.
Learning language is much more efficient as an active endeavor. Your 11-month-old will master language more quickly and more completely by hearing conversations, enjoying singing (especially with hand motions such as with "Itsy-bitsy-spider") and just hearing you talk out loud. If more than one language is spoken in your household, don't hold back but do point out both (or more) words for the same concept - e.g.. "It’s a "cat" or "gato" or "chat." The various hi-tech passive DVDs, games, and TV shows can't compete with the human experience. Your baby likes you more than Big Bird.
Your Baby's Development
Developmental milestones are often rather broad. For instance, a child generally learns to walk independently between 9 and 16 months of age - that’s a 7-month range! Multiple studies indicate that accomplishing a skill (e.g., walking independently) is not a prognosticator for future superiority of that skill set. Some children enjoy certain activities more than others, yet all children ultimately accomplish the requisite developmental milestones to be considered normal. If you have any questions, speak with your child's pediatrician.