What should your baby learn in the first year?
The birth of a child is a magical experience like no other. It is truly a feat in itself, even before the processes of teaching the child and exposing it to the outside world begins. Throughout pregnancy, fetuses in the womb undergo incredible changes in such a short period, and that rapid growth and transformation continue well after childbirth too.
Newborn babies are generally viewed as little human bodies that cry all the time, sleep most of the day and excrete whenever. But they are doing a lot more than that, the trick is to observe them in the first few months.
You need to look for a few key behaviors and physical skills while your newborn baby is growing, especially in the first year of development. These are called developmental milestones. A baby’s development is measured based on certain behaviors and actions generally observed within this broad time frame.
First to the fourth month:
Babies generally develop and fine-tune their focusing capabilities and motor reflexes now. Their senses adjust and sharpen, and they start to learn new things. Your baby will instinctively shut its eyes to bright lights, and be very sensitive to touch and pain. This is also the period when they will flinch and cry because of loud sounds or if they are suddenly dropped.
Although crying is the only means of communication then, they will begin to coo when they are happy, squeal and make vowel sounds like ahh by the second month. This is the beginning of early language development for them. This is also when they will try to start following any movement around them with their eyes, which is called tracking.
By the third month, your baby will have learnt to deliberately roll onto their back (or from the back to their stomach) and will hold their head and chest up when lying on their stomach. This period is marked by better control of movement and learning how to grasp a moderately-sized object. It will come reflexively to them to reach out for objects and make a tight fist around anything that is placed in their palm while trying to put them in their mouth. They will wave their arms and kick their legs around. They will be able to differentiate between your face and voice compared to strangers and imitate your expressions — smiling, laughing, or looking in wonder because you did so.
In the fourth month, these behaviours, motor and language skills will improve as they will learn to grasp objects and shake them (like a rattle) with better hand-eye coordination, will be able to hold their head and chest up for longer and track movement around them more smoothly. Many babies, by the fourth month, will be capable of showing more emotion like delight and excitement by chuckling or blowing raspberries, especially if you display these emotions in front of them.
Fifth to the ninth month:
Now, your baby continues to grow and explore the world around them. They will build on their experience with movement and behaviours and continue to improve them. In the fifth month, you may notice that your baby is getting curious about things around them, especially food that you are eating, and they may also learn to move objects from one hand to another. Showing interest in your food is a sign that they are ready for solid foods. By now, they will have learnt how to indicate that they need something. If they want to be picked up, they may raise their arms above their head.
By the sixth and seventh month, your baby may be able to sit up without support for brief periods and recognize their name. They are getting better at expressing emotion and making sounds that indicate assent or displeasure. At this stage, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is a good time to encourage your babies to start using their hands to eat and teach them how to use spoons. It can get messy, but it’ll be fun! In the seventh month, they will be able to sit for longer without the support and will be able to string more consonants together as they babble.
In the eighth month, your baby can do all the activities it did so far with better precision and control. This is the month that they may try to pull up to a standing position and develop separation anxiety — a distress babies feel when you leave them and go for short periods. Don’t worry, they will overcome this anxiety as time passes.
The last four months are truly amazing — your baby is now moving around. They start pointing, poking at things and using a pincer grip to pick small objects. Regarding physical movement, they start crawling, standing, and walking around holding onto furniture in the room (cruising). They will continue to explore objects in their environment by throwing or dropping them, identifying them and copying your actions. They will now understand simple instructions and say one or two simple words like hi, goodbye, yes, and no.
When to consult a paediatrician:
Understand that these developmental milestones aren’t reached by all babies at the same time, and it is okay because progress is not uniform for all babies. These are average ages based on studies conducted en masse. Some babies may reach these milestones very early and some very late. This is usually okay.
Based on your baby’s health history, the way it approaches these milestones and the time it takes might be different compared to your neighbors baby. This is no cause for alarm. If you are concerned about something, however, it is best to consult your baby’s pediatrician. They will monitor your baby’s progress regularly and decide if intervention is needed.
In the whole whirlwind of activities and responsibilities you will have to prepare yourself for, you may forget how exciting this whole journey is supposed to be. This is particularly in the first year of your infant’s growth, where you will have to constantly monitor their development. But do not get overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to keep in mind! Here’s your reminder to take a step back, enjoy the process, marvel at your baby’s growth, and let nature run its course.