Paediatric occupational therapist Amy Faulkner guides us through a baby’s physical and mental milestones in the first 3 months of their life.
Your baby development: birth to 3 months
The role of a newborn in the first three months is learning how to self-regulate outside the womb. Your role as a parent is to help them do this. By looking at your baby’s behaviours as their language you can learn what your baby is telling you and how they are feeling. For example, if they are happy and content they will have a good colour, their eyes will be bright and focused. Or perhaps if they are overwhelmed they might look away, be red or pale in the face.
Gross motor skills
It is important to offer your baby plenty of opportunity to lie and move down on the floor or on a flat surface. Your baby should be encouraged to move and stretch while lying on a play mat, in their moses basket, or pram. When supervised, your baby can lie on their back, tummy and in a side lying position.
1. Back to sleep, tummy to play
Tummy time is a vital foundation for helping babies to develop strong muscles in their necks, backs, tummies, legs and arms. They learn how to control the co-contraction of the muscles. Tummy time should be started from newborn and practiced a few times daily. The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists have a lovely guide to tummy time. http://www.iscp.ie/physiotherapy-tummytime-your-baby
2. Head Control: approximately three months
At birth, babies will generally have weak neck muscles and will not be able to hold their heads up without support. With a newborn, you will need to fully support your baby’s head whenever you are lifting her. Through tummy time, floor time and being lifted and carried a baby’s strength develops and by three months, she should be able to hold her head up independently when the body is supported.
3. Roll: approximately three months
Babies will usually learn to roll from their tummy to their backs first. They will often master this skill in one direction first then the other. They often discover how to roll by accident while perhaps trying to push out of tummy time position. Rolling from their backs to their tummy is trickier and requires increased motor control.
Babies usually develop this skill by reaching down and exploring their toes. As they do this they may end up rolling onto their side. By six months, babies are usually efficient at rolling such that they may roll tummy to back to tummy again. This is a novel and fun way for a baby to move around .
Your baby will start to bring their hands to midline, picking at their clothes and putting their hands in their mouths. They can grasp objects (reflex, however they have no true release. Encourage your baby to bat for toys in their play gym. To encourage development of their hand- eye coordination skills and exploratory touch give them light rattles, black and white baby books, mirrors, textured toys to play with.
Your baby starts to develop their social from the minute they are born. Their first social interaction might be skin-to-skin contact with their mum or dad. This physical connection using positive touch is the earliest way of your baby developing social relationships.
In the first months of our baby’s life, they will rely on you to read their behaviours and communication cues and interpret their needs. Babies express themselves and use these behaviours to develop bonds with their care givers e.g. eye contact, smiling, crying, vocalising, and touching. Babies can smile from as young as a couple of weeks old.
Face to face interaction with your baby is very important in developing their social skills. Faces fascinate babies, so there are lots of opportunities to play using your face. As they get older, they will start to pull at your face and feel the different textures of hair, skin, mouths. You can use your face to develop facial expressions. Babies are able to imitate facial expressions from newborn. Sing to your baby and facilitate moving their hands and legs as actions.
Car seats and equipment
Babies should not spend more than 30 minutes in their infant carrier car seat. The car seat brings your baby into a flexed position, which is not a natural position for baby anymore as it once was when they were tucked up in mummy’s womb. Babies need to reach, extend and stretch to explore and learn about their environment.
Some proven risks of prolonged car seat include, increased reflux, risk of blocking off airways and reduced oxygen levels, and overheating. Time spent in the car seat should be limited to car travel only. The availability of equipment, such as seats, swings, jumping gyms etc. often leaves babies at risk of limited opportunity to learn to move independently and may encourage and contribute to musculoskeletal problems such as torticollis, plagiocephaly (flat head).